As a general proposition, for income tax purposes, interest income on a bank account is assessable to the account holders in proportion to their beneficial ownership of the money in the account.
The ATO will assume, unless there is evidence to the contrary, that joint account holders beneficially own the money in equal shares.
However, this is a rebuttable presumption, if there is evidence to show that joint account holders hold money in the account on trust for other persons.
Example – Joint signatory (but no beneficial ownership of account)
Adrian’s elderly aunt has a bank account in her name, and Adrian is a joint signatory to that account. Adrian will only operate the account if his aunt is unable to do so due to ill health, but all the funds in the account are hers, and Adrian is not entitled to personally receive any money from the account.
Adrian does not have any beneficial ownership of the money in the account and is therefore not assessable on the interest income.
Children’s bank accounts
In relation to bank accounts operated by a parent on behalf of a child, where the child beneficially owns the money in the account, the parent can show the interest in a tax return lodged for the child, and the lodgment of a trust return will not be necessary.
Example – Child savings account – parent operates as trustee
Raymond, aged 14, has accumulated $7,000 over the years from birthdays and other special occasions. Raymond’s mother has placed the money into a bank account in his name, which she operates on his behalf, but she does not use the money in the account for herself or others.
Raymond earns $490 in interest during an income year and, since he has beneficial ownership of the money in the account, he is therefore assessable on all of the interest income.
However, as Raymond is under 18 years of age, he will be subject to the higher rates of tax that can apply to children. If Raymond shows the interest in his tax return for that income year, his mother will not need to lodge a trust tax return.