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Everything to Know About Authorized Users on Your Credit Card

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Everything to Know About Authorized Users On Your Credit Card

An authorized user is someone who holds a credit card in his or her name but is not the primary cardholder of the account. For example, you could get a credit card for your spouse on your credit card account in his or her name and they could use it as their own. But while they can use the card without restriction, an authorized user never has an obligation to make payments, not even on their own charges.

That’s because payment of the account is the sole responsibility of the primary account holder. So it’s important to be wary if you’re considering adding an authorized user to your account and ensure that you and the authorized user understand and respect the credit and financial obligations.

With that in mind, you might be wondering why on earth you would want to add an authorized user to your account. Well, it can be very beneficial for one or both parties.

“It can certainly be a convenience if you have a trusted friend or family member who may need to make transactions on your behalf occasionally,” said Thomas Nitzsche, media manager for ClearPoint Credit Solutions. “One example is in the event of hospitalization or other emergency, the authorized person can keep up on your affairs.”

Of course, there are other reasons to consider adding an authorized user.

How Being an Authorized User Can Build Credit

For the authorized user, being added to someone else’s credit card account can be a credit-building plus, as long as the primary account holder pays the account as agreed. Keep in mind, though, this can depend upon the credit card issuer.

Some credit scoring models have discontinued the practice of allowing authorized users to ‘piggyback’ on the good credit of the primary account holder with an authorized user credit card, though it does still happen.

If you’re thinking of adding an authorized user for that purpose, you’ll first want to check with the card issuer to see if they report authorized users to the credit reporting agencies, and, if so, if the account is reported as if it was their own.

If it is, the credit account will be listed in the authorized user’s credit file. And this will help the authorized user to build and improve his or her credit score, as long as the primary account holder continues to make on-time payments to the account.

Do keep in mind, though, that the authorized user’s misuse of your card could end up having a negative impact on your credit, and even your finances.

“The most important thing to remember is that authorized users can use the account whenever and however they wish, with no legal responsibility to pay you or the card issuer back,” said Nitzsche. “For this reason, you may want to consider putting text alerts on the account so that you know in real time when it’s being used instead of waiting for the statement to show up.”

How Adding an Authorized User Impacts Your Credit

When you give someone else access to your credit card account as an authorized user, it means both you and the authorized user may make purchases. This can impact the primary cardholder’s credit utilization ratio, which accounts for 30% of a credit score.

For example, if an authorized user goes on a massive spending spree and charges more than a primary cardholder is able to pay back, even as a minimum monthly payment, the primary cardholder’s payment history, the single largest factor in determining a credit score, can be negatively impacted. Payment history accounts for 35% of a credit score.

That’s why it’s so important that an authorized user act responsibly when making credit card charges. And why it is so important that the primary cardholder monitors the spending on the account carefully and pays the account as agreed.

And remember, if an authorized user on one of your credit cards isn’t working out, you can remove the authorized user with a quick phone call to your credit card issuer.

That’s one of the big differences between an authorized user and a joint account holder.

Authorized Users Vs. Joint Accounts

A joint account is a credit card held equally by the primary account holders. That means not only equal access to the line of credit, but also other elements like the ability to dispute charges, request a credit limit increase, close the account and transfer balances, and so on.

Likewise, it means joint responsibility for payments. Because both primary account holders are responsible for paying back debt, any delinquency or default will be reflected on both account holders’ credit histories. That can become a big problem in the event that the couple separates, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you decide whether joint or separate accounts might be best for you.

Whether you’re the primary account holder, authorized user or have a joint account on a credit card, it’s important to keep an eye on your credit. By monitoring your credit scores, you can track your progress and watch for negative changes that could indicate a problem with your credit. You can get two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

Constance Brinkley-Badgett Contributed to this article.


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  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    If the authorized user doesn’t use the card, it won’t affect the primary user at all. It’s only that single account that will appear on both of their credit reports. In other words, other individual accounts will not be mixed. Of course if the authorized user does use the card then the primary cardholder will be on the hook for any charges made.

    Accounts identified as “authorized user” may not carry quite the same weight as they would for the primary accountholder, but if the account has low balances when compare to the credit limit and is always paid on time. the overall effect for the authorized user’s credit should be positive.

    This article should help:
    Piggybacking to Boost FICO Scores: Does it Still Work?

  • Willow

    What happens if the authorized user doesn’t want to be an authorized user? The bank will delete the user, but will it disappear off the credit report? Or will there be a record on the credit report that the account existed but then was deleted?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It may still show the past history. You will need to check your credit reports to find out. If there is negative information due to the authorized user account, I’d suggest you dispute it. Here’s how: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • very very sad household

    what happens when the primary authorizes her husband and he gives the card to his son? without the primary’s knowledge and runs it to the limit?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It is a sad situation. Technically it sounds like it is fraud since you didn’t authorize him to use the card. But are you willing or able to turn your stepson in for fraud? That’s the question only you and your spouse can answer. It’s not likely you can get out of paying the charges and avoid reporting him as the unauthorized user.

  • Smarter now

    While separating from my ex-husband, I was not allowed to remove him as an authorized user from two credit cards I held prior to marriage. And yes, he eventually run one to the limit. The other company let me reduce the credit limit to zero to prevent this.

  • Kim

    Hi There – My husband has a credit card that I am an authorized user on. The amount of debt is pretty high. He has been battleing cancer the past 2 years and now is being treated by hospice. We had originally planned to pay off the card with his life insurance. However, his company were he worked dropped his life insurance so now there is no life insurance (I have an attorney looking into it). Since I never completed the credit application and am not the primary card holder when he dies will I be reponsbilite to pay off the debt? BTW, I don’t have it. I will have to file bankruptcy if I am obligated to pay it.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I am sorry to hear what you’re going through. In most cases the primary cardholder is liable for the debt, not the authorized user. If, however, you live in a community property state ( Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin.) then creditors may look to your community property to satisfy the debt. Or they can try to collect from the estate, if there is one. If not, they may not get paid. This article goes into more detail: Debt After Death: 10 Things You Need to Know

  • sophisticatedlydumb

    How much credit history or score will reflect in the authorized users FICO.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      It’s a pretty minor amount. But it can help with “credit age” (how long the individual has had access to credit). The credit bureaus are well aware that authorized users have no responsibility for paying the bill, so it is not typically weighed heavily.

  • Amber

    Hello I’m new at this so just one question. I don’t have credit yet so my fiance is adding me as an authorized user on his credit card. Would it help me with my credit at all? And would u happen to know anything that could help me get credit?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Amber —
      Being an authorized user gives you many of the privileges of a credit card holder without responsibility for paying it off. Do you have a savings or checking account with a bank or credit union? If you already have a relationship with a financial institution, you may want to inquire about “credit builder” loans or secured credit cards (a secured card requires a deposit, which becomes your credit limit, and its use is reported to credit bureaus just as a regular card would be). You can learn more here: How to Build Credit the Smart Way


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