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The Pros and Cons of Sharing a Credit Card Account

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Partners who blend their financial lives often share a credit card account as a way to stay accountable to each other, track expenses, and build or maintain their individual credit ratings. According to a 2016 survey, 86 million Americans have shared a credit card with someone, and nearly 50% did so with a spouse. And although applying for a joint credit card together or adding your partner as an authorized user to an existing account can simplify the way you manage your money, it's not right for every couple. If you're considering sharing a credit card with your partner, here are things to consider before taking action.

Joint credit card account vs. authorized user: What's the difference?

If you and your partner apply for a new credit card as joint account holders, then you both agree to share responsibility for making payments on any balances owed and otherwise abiding by cardholder agreement terms even if only one of you uses the card or pays the bills. If your partner makes a late payment, then your credit card issuer may report that on both of your credit reports, even if your spouse is the only account holder that uses the credit card to make purchases. The bottom line is that when you have a joint credit card account, you are each legally responsible for the debt accumulated on that credit card.

Authorized users, on the other hand, are not legally responsible for balances they accumulate. That means if you are a credit cardholder and you add your partner as an authorized user, you are legally responsible for anything your partner spends on your credit card. If you don't pay your bill on time or don't follow the rules established by your cardholder agreement, then your credit rating could suffer.

Your credit score is a number that helps lenders assess how likely you are to repay a loan. Lenders use credit scores and other information to evaluate risk. The higher the score, the lower the risk and applicants with good credit scores may earn the most favorable borrowing terms. Maintaining a good credit score means you may pay lower interest rates than borrowers with riskier profiles. And getting married won't solve an individual's credit history problems, since spouses maintain individual scores and not one married score throughout their lives.

That means you'll want to monitor and maintain your credit score indefinitely. If you have a partner and plan to apply for a joint credit card offer or other loan, then it may be wise to have your partner monitor and maintain his or her score, too. Although a 2016 Experian survey revealed that 40% of newlyweds don't know their spouse's credit score, sharing this information with one another is essential if you're considering a joint card or other loan, says Jeff Lido, a financial advisor with Advance Capital Management in Southfield, Michigan.

Being aware of each other's credit score and history can help couples avoid potential financial challenges and arguments over acquiring loans, spending, and saving money, Lido says.

The strength of your individual credit scores can set the tone for what you're able to achieve financially. For example, if you're planning to buy a home with a joint mortgage, having higher credit scores may help you secure a larger loan amount, or earn a better interest rate on that mortgage.

This conversation can lead to bigger talks about money and long-term planning. Annalee Leonard, owner of Mainstay Financial Group in Pensacola, Florida, recommends that couples look beyond credit scores to their larger financial picture.

Each spouse should have a clear understanding of the other's attitude toward money and whether they're coming into the relationship with financial baggage, such as debt, Leonard says. From there, you can move on to mapping out your short- and long-term financial goals.

Weigh the benefits of sharing a credit card

There are several good reasons to consider a joint credit card account if you and your partner are on the same page financially. First, there's the transparency factor. If you have a joint budget in place, sharing a credit card can be a good way to hold one another accountable for what you're spending and plan to spend.

A joint credit card can also take some of the headaches out of budgeting and paying bills. You can simply charge shared expenses to the card each month, rather than divvying them up.

Another nice perk of sharing a joint credit card is coordinating rewards, says Ian Atkins, an analyst with Fit Small Business.

Not splitting up your rewards among several individual cards may mean your household actually has enough rewards to use, Atkins says.

Additionally, better credit scores could help you qualify for upper tier cards with premium rewards. Mileage credit cards, for example, may allow you to rack up travel rewards, which could prove valuable if you and your spouse are globetrotters.

Perhaps most importantly, sharing a credit card can potentially be a good way for both spouses to build and maintain their credit.

The activity on a joint credit card account may be reported on both of your credit reports. If you're both using the card responsibly, that could help to improve your scores over time. That's something to consider if you're planning on applying for a car loan, or if a mortgage is in your future.

Watch out for the pitfalls of shared credit cards

While sharing a credit card account has some upsides, it's not always ideal. If one partner has bad credit because of a past financial mistake or poor spending habits, then a joint credit card may not work, says Leonard.

In some cases, your partner's credit score may actually keep you from getting approved for a joint credit card altogether. If that happens to you, your partner may be better off applying for a secured credit card, which may help rebuild credit.

Atkins suggests adding your partner to one of your credit card accounts as an authorized user if credit score is hindering you from getting a joint card. Just bear in mind that as the primary cardholder, you're responsible for all charges not only the ones you make. If your partner runs up a sizable balance or pays the bill late, your credit score could be negatively affected.

Communication is essential when it comes to spending, Lido says, and establishing some guidelines can minimize the odds of running into trouble with a joint account.

Set ground rules for the kinds of expenses that can be charged on the card, Atkins says. Not only will this help you stick to your budget, but it will also ensure that one partner isn't treating the card differently than the other.

Leonard advises that putting a spending cap in place can also head off arguments.

Couples should have an agreement that if anything over a certain dollar amount is going on the card, both parties must agree on the purchase, she says.

Whether opening a joint credit card makes sense ultimately comes down to how each of you approaches your finances, how your credit scores compare to one another, and what you hope to accomplish with your money individually and as a couple.

If you think a joint credit card is the right move, take the time to review the annual percentage rate and fees carefully for any card you're considering. If there's a rewards program, make sure it's a good match for both your spending styles. Finally, consider what the guidelines will be for using the card. The more thought you put into your final selection, the better your experience with sharing a credit card is likely to be.

Adding an Authorized User to your Credit Card: Common Questions and Answers

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10 Jan Adding an Authorized User to your Credit Card: Common Questions and Answers

As we’ve detailed in our recent article (include link here), one of the most effective ways to help someone build a good credit score is to allow them to become an authorized user on your credit card. Doing so lets them benefit from the good credit rating you have established and help create or repair a credit rating for themselves through the use of your card.

Of course, deciding to add an authorized user to your credit card is not a decision you want to take lightly, as you will bear the consequences of the actions they may take with the card. Many authorizers are reluctant to allow an authorized use to be put on their card as they don’t understand what the process fully involves, and the consequences they may suffer as a result.

Here is some of the most commonly asked questions about adding an authorized user to your credit card, but first make sure to read how to build credit by becoming an authorized user.

Is there a fee for adding an authorized user?

You need to check with your credit card provider but most won’t charge a fee for establishing an authorized user. They may charge for an additional card (check if you have any annual fees for this) but generally most card providers are happy to encourage increased spending on your card.

Do all credit card companies permit authorized users to be added?

Most card providers will, although the level of information they will require in order to apply will vary for each provider. Ask your card provider what they need before going ahead.

Does the user see the rest of my banking information?

No, the user will only have access to information related to your credit card, not the rest of your banking information. If you have more than one credit card, you can choose which one they may have access to and they will not be able to see or make purchases on any of your other cards.

Does adding an authorized user really make a difference to their credit score?

Some credit card companies don’t always forward authorized user information to the credit bureaus although they generally do if the user is a spouse. You should check this with the card provider before adding a user. Where there is no requirement to provide social security or similar information for the user then information will not be sent to the credit bureau’s as they are unable to cross reference the person concerned.

Different lenders may utilize different methods for assessing credit risks and this will have an impact on the user’s credit score when they are assessed. As such being an authorized user may or may not impact depending on the circumstances. Most companies choose between Vantage Score or FICO as their means of assessing risk and this may change the results of credit assessments. Vantage focuses on more positive factors for an authorized user, whereas FICO considers both good and bad credit factors when assessing the score. Some lenders don’t consider authorized user scores at all when assessing credit risk.

There is no age requirement for authorized users. The ultimate responsibility for the card rests with the principal user and it is they who are assessed.

Do they have to be a U.S. citizen?

Most card providers will require a social security number be provided to verify the user. This is to prevent abuse by people who have added fictitious users in an effort to receive sign up bonuses.

Do they have to be a family member?

There is no restriction on the user being related to you, in fact some companies will do it for their employees.

Will adding an authorized user affect my credit score?

As the card’s principal, you are at risk for the behavior of the user with your card. Should they run up amounts on your card you are unable to repay you will be the one responsible. If the card is not up to date with its payments it will impact your credit score negatively, not theirs. They get to enjoy the upside of a positive credit card without the downside of a negative one. You will not however be responsible for their credit rating with respect to any other debts they may have, and other outstanding amounts they have will not impact your credit score.

You need to also consider that someone else using your card will increase the amount of debt you have showing, which may reduce your own score. It is recommended not to use more than 30% of your approved credit level. Adding another user may see this level be passed.

Does an authorized user get a credit card?

An authorized user will normally be issued with a card unless you request otherwise. It is not necessary for them to spend in order to benefit from being a user of your card

Does an authorized user need a minimum credit score?

No minimum score is required.

Can I remove someone as an authorized user?

You can easily ask to have a user removed any time you wish, and they can also easily remove themselves.

How do I remove an authorized user?

You can do this by contacting the credit card provider or doing it online

If the user affects my credit rating through bad behavior can I fix my credit rating?

Removing the user and settling your credit card up to date will generally fix the issue.

Once removed does it stop counting on my credit score immediately?

Provided there is no issue around the credit card in question you will immediately no longer be responsible for their spending

Is there a limit to how many authorized users I can add?

Most credit card companies do have a limit but this is generally more than one. The Discover card for example permits up to 5 authorized users to be added. This can be ideal if you are a parent wishing to help each of your children establish a credit history.

Can I control how much the authorized user can spend?

Most card companies won’t distinguish payments on the account, this will be up to you and the user to sort yourselves. As such the only way to stop the user from spending up to the credit card limit is to prevent them from having a card.

What can an authorized user do on my account?

This will vary for each card, however most authorized users have the ability to spend on the card, report stolen cards, enquire regarding fees, order statements and raise payment disputes. They will not be able to close the account, authorize another user to join the card or increase the credit limit of the card. These functions will be at the sole discretion of the card principal.

Should I add them to any of my cards?

There are several factors you may need to consider but one that will help their score is the age of the card. The longer it has been established the better the impact on their score.

Can I add them to more than one card?

If I add an authorized user can I still use the card myself?

You are still able to use the card yourself. Just consider that if it is a card that you normally use all or most of the credit on, or you like to keep for emergencies, the authorized user may be spending some of that balance for you. Make sure it doesn’t affect your own spending.

What’s the difference between an authorized user and a co-Signor?

A co-signer is jointly and severally liable for the credit card in the same way as if the card was their own. They will have full card rights and will be jointly held responsible for any overdue amount. They will need to meet the approval criteria of the credit card provider in their own right to be added to the card.

Does other behavior of the authorized user affect my credit score?

If the user should have debt issues outside of the credit card for which they are approved this will have no effect on your credit score. It’s important to understand that you are not becoming a guarantor for all their debts, but are only responsible for their actions with the credit card for which they have been approved.

Is there anything else I should consider?

You should also consider non-monetary factors, such as your relationship with the person concerned. What would happen if they abuse your card or have a negative impact on your credit score? How will you handle this?

One of the additional benefits that an approved user can provide you with is the chance to gain additional credit card rewards on your card. There may be a sign-up bonus available when you take them on, and at the very least they will be a second spender who can earn you points from their purchases. Be careful though as some credit cards permit the authorized user to redeem reward points as well and this may not be something you wish to share with them

There are several things to consider when agreeing to add an authorized user to your card. It’s important you are fully informed and understand completely the pros and cons of making this decision, both for you and the user, before going ahead.