Pros and Cons of Being an Authorized User on a Credit Card

Pros and Cons of Being an Authorized User on a Credit Card

How to become an authorized user

When it comes to building or establishing credit, having poor or limited credit can make it challenging to obtain a credit card with the best features and benefits. However, there is a solution – becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. This strategy allows you to enjoy the perks and benefits of a credit card while building your credit history. But, like any financial decision, there are pros and cons to consider before committing to this arrangement.

What is an authorized user on a credit card?

An authorized user is a secondary account holder on a credit card. They have permission to use the card and enjoy most of its benefits, such as airport lounge access, purchase protection, and rental car protection. However, authorized users do not have legal responsibility for the debt. They can make purchases, but they are not liable for repaying the charges.

While authorized users receive their own credit card, they do not have the same privileges as the primary account holder. For example, they usually cannot redeem rewards, request a credit line increase, close the account, or add another authorized user. However, some issuers may allow authorized users to access the account balance, request statement copies, and make payments.

Authorized user vs. joint credit card vs. cosigner

Before we delve into the pros and cons, let’s clarify the differences between an authorized user, a joint credit cardholder, and a cosigner:

  • Authorized user: The primary account holder is responsible for the debt, while the authorized user has no legal responsibility. They can be removed from the account at any time.
  • Joint credit cardholder: Both parties share legal responsibility for the debt and have equal privileges and obligations.
  • Cosigner: Both the primary borrower and the cosigner are responsible for the debt. A cosigner is typically used when the primary borrower does not meet the credit requirements on their own.

Now that we understand the basics, let’s examine the pros and cons of becoming an authorized user on a credit card.

Pros of becoming an authorized user

Get easy access to a credit card.

Once added as an authorized user, you have immediate access to the credit card without undergoing a credit inquiry or qualifying for a new account. This is especially beneficial if you have poor or limited credit and are unable to obtain a credit card on your own.

Build credit quickly.

As an authorized user, you benefit from an established credit line and positive payment history. If the card has been open for several years, has a positive payment history, and maintains a low credit utilization, it can significantly improve your credit score in a short period. Building credit is essential for future financial endeavors, such as applying for loans or mortgages.

Help a friend or family member keep an active card open.

Adding an authorized user helps the primary cardholder maintain an active credit card. Credit card issuers may close accounts or reduce credit limits if they are not used regularly. By using the card and making regular payments, you can prevent this from happening, ultimately benefiting both parties.

Help a friend or family member earn rewards.

In addition to enjoying rewards on purchases made by the primary cardholder, many rewards credit cards also offer rewards on purchases made by authorized users. Although these rewards can typically only be redeemed by the primary cardholder, it’s still an added incentive for both parties.

Track family spending in a single account.

Managing a family budget can be challenging, but adding an authorized user allows you to consolidate all family expenses onto one card. This simplifies tracking spending and prevents budget leaks, making it easier to understand where your money is going each month.

Cons of becoming an authorized user

It could cause conflict with family or friends.

If you charge a significant amount and struggle to pay your portion of the bill, the primary cardholder will have to cover it. This could strain your relationship and create financial tension.

The account holder’s delinquent card payments will show up on your credit report.

Conversely, if the primary cardholder experiences financial difficulties such as late payments, charge-offs, or bankruptcy, it can negatively impact your credit report as well. These negative items could lower your credit score and make it more challenging to obtain your own credit card in the future.

The account holder can remove you at any time.

Since you are not an account owner, the primary cardholder has the authority to remove you as an authorized user at any time without your knowledge. This could lead to embarrassment if you attempt to make a purchase using the card and discover that it has been declined.

There may be an extra fee for it.

While some credit cards allow authorized users at no additional charge, others require an annual fee for adding an authorized user. This fee is typically less than the primary card’s annual fee, but it’s still an important factor to consider.

Which credit card companies report authorized users?

One of the primary benefits of being an authorized user is the ability to build your credit history. However, not all credit card companies report authorized users to credit bureaus, which means it won’t have an impact on your credit score. To ensure your authorized user status helps improve your credit score, consider the following credit card issuers that report authorized users:

  • American Express: The Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card
  • Bank of America: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
  • Capital One: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Chase: Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Citi: Citi Double Cash® Card, Citi Premier® Card
  • U.S. Bank: U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
  • Wells Fargo: Bilt Mastercard®, Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

How many authorized users can be on a credit card?

The number of authorized users you can add to your credit card depends on the issuer, and there may be a minimum age requirement. For example, Discover typically requires authorized users to be at least 15 years old. Additionally, some issuers may charge an annual fee for each authorized user account.

Adding an authorized user to a credit card

If you decide that becoming an authorized user is the right move for you, here are the general steps to follow:

  1. Find someone willing to add you as an authorized user. Discuss how you’ll use the card, make payments, and understand the benefits and any associated fees.
  2. Provide your full name, date of birth, and Social Security number (if required) to the primary cardholder.
  3. The primary cardholder contacts the credit card company to add you as an authorized user.
  4. The card issuer will either mail the new card to the primary cardholder or directly to you.
  5. Once you receive the card, activate it either online or over the phone.
  6. Create an online profile to monitor transactions and make payments.
  7. Start using the card responsibly for everyday purchases or emergencies, following the agreed-upon terms.

It’s essential to communicate openly with the primary cardholder and discuss spending limits, card usage, and repayment expectations to avoid any misunderstandings.

Alternatives to adding an authorized user

If you want to help someone establish or improve their credit but are hesitant to add them as an authorized user, consider these alternatives:

  • Secured credit card: Designed for individuals with limited or poor credit, secured credit cards require a security deposit that serves as a line of credit. They typically report to major credit bureaus, helping build credit history.
  • Student credit card: If the individual is a student, a student credit card could be a suitable option. These cards are designed for students with little or no credit history and often offer rewards and incentives for good grades.
  • Joint account holder: Adding the individual as a joint account holder means both parties share the credit limit and legal responsibility for paying the bill. However, it’s important to note that joint credit card accounts are not widely offered by banks.

Consider these alternatives based on the individual’s specific financial situation and credit goals.

FAQs

Q: Can being an authorized user help my credit score?
A: Yes, being an authorized user can positively impact your credit score if the credit card issuer reports authorized user activity to credit bureaus. You benefit from an established credit line and the primary cardholder’s positive payment history.

Q: Can the primary cardholder see my transactions as an authorized user?
A: Depending on the issuer, authorized users may have access to their account balance, statement copies, and transaction history. However, they typically cannot redeem rewards, request a credit line increase, or make changes to the account.

Q: How can I be removed as an authorized user on a credit card?
A: The primary cardholder can remove you as an authorized user at any time by contacting the credit card company. However, it’s always a good idea to communicate openly and discuss any changes to avoid surprises or misunderstandings.

Conclusion

Becoming an authorized user on a credit card has its pros and cons. It can be an effective strategy to build credit quickly, gain access to a credit card, and help a friend or family member keep an active card open. However, it also carries the risk of the primary cardholder’s financial issues affecting your credit, potential conflicts, and the possibility of being removed at any time. Consider your own financial goals and the dynamics of your relationship before deciding to become an authorized user.