Can We Open a Joint Account?
Couples in Korea & Money, Part 2:
After we were married we headed to the bank with the purpose of opening up a joint account. As newlyweds we didn’t really know what we were doing, but I was sure if we were married, we should have a bank account with both of our names on it. That would make it truly official, right? If anything, I thought, this would be important in case of an emergency or accident so that either one of us would have access to enough money if we needed it. What seemed like it should be an easy venture… was not. Should I have been surprised?
I have three bank accounts myself, different schools requested that I open accounts with a bank I didn’t have and I ended up with three. I use the very first one I opened for savings and transfers abroad, because as a foreigner I can only have one bank set up to transfer abroad. The other two are now the choices I give to employers when I accept a position. I have three bank accounts with three banking institutions, so I know that I can in fact open an account, so why we should have had issue with opening a joint account… I’m still not exactly sure. Here was a conversation, more or less as it’s from memory, we had with a Woori Bank Customer Service Representative in Mapo-gu:
CSR: Hello. How may I help you today?
Husband: We would like to open a joint account.
CSR: I see. What is your relationship?
Husband: We’re married.
CSR: We don’t usually offer joint accounts to couples.
CSR: Well, it’s a lot of paperwork. I’m sure you don’t want to stay here and fill it all out.
Me: That’s why we came here, so yes, we would like to fill it all out…
I look around to see that there is no one waiting and we are the only people in the bank so, naturally I’m not really sure why this woman doesn’t want to actually work and do her job.
CSR: Does your wife have a Korean passport?
Husband: No, she doesn’t. Do we need one for a joint account?
Me: As far as I have read online, that is not necessary for a joint account.
CSR: Joint accounts are just not recommended for married couples…
Me: That doesn’t make any sense. It should be recommended for married couples. Who else uses joint accounts?
Husband: Okay, so what do you recommend?
Me: No, I want to know why in a country where the divorce rate is just as high as my own country there aren’t joint accounts. Tell me, whose name is the money usually under? I’m just going to assume it’s the husbands and you think that’s safe? Who do you think ends up with all of the money in the event of a divorce? I’m not saying we’re going to get a divorce, but this just seems ridiculous. If a husband walks out and empties an account, what is the wife to do?
CSR: In the past when we’ve had joint accounts for couples when the couple gets into a fight one of them may come in and take all of the money out and then when the other half comes in and there is no money in their account there have been big scenes so our bank manager has suggested that we don’t offer this to couples. Also, if one of the spouses dies then it becomes difficult for the other person to take the money out. Our joint accounts are recommended for business partners.
At this point I knew we weren’t going to get a joint account and I was flabbergasted about it really. There was a lot of sighing and huffing on my part. I couldn’t understand why a joint account was only recommended for business partners and not partners in life.
Husband: Okay, we’ll open an account in her name.
CSR: Okay, here are the forms.
Me: It doesn’t have to be in my name… that’s not the point.
We ended up with an account under my name that we both put money into and called it our “joint” account even though there was nothing joint about whose name it was under. My husband said we just have different cultures and where I think a joint account is quite important, in Korea they don’t. While the forms were being filled out I put forth a query concerning what would happen in the event that I or my husband needed money out of his or my account. In case of an emergency, what were the options, since there was no joint account option. The CSR said it wouldn’t be difficult to get money out of my husband’s account which made me wonder how easy it is to get money out of someone else’s account here. I wonder how easy it would really be if I walked in, my foreign self, and asked to access a Korean national’s account. I thought opening a joint account would be easy, so really, how easy could it be to get money out of my husband’s account without my husband with me?
As I always read as much information online as I can before even attempting something like this, something serious and not fun for multiple trips back and forth, I had prepared myself to be able to open an account with my husband. I hadn’t prepared myself for being denied because we’re married to each other. We haven’t attempted to open another joint account at Woori or any other bank since then and I can’t say whether or not it was just one lazy woman that didn’t want to do paperwork, or if joint accounts really are that difficult to make for married couples, but I can say that it made it onto the list of things I couldn’t understand concerning couples in Korea and their money. Why can’t I open a joint account with my partner in life?
To read Part 1 of Couples in Korea & Money: How much allowance do you get? click here.