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

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Citi is an advertising partner.

When you have poor or limited credit, it can be challenging to get a credit card with the best features and benefits. Getting added as an authorized user on someone else’s credit card is an effective way to build or establish credit while enjoying premium perks. Just know that becoming an authorized user comes with some risk, since you don’t control the account. If the primary account holder doesn’t pay their bill, has too high of a balance or closes their account altogether, your credit can be negatively impacted.

Before becoming an authorized user of someone’s credit card account, review the pros and cons listed below to help determine if it’s the right move for you.

What is an authorized user on a credit card?

Many issuers allow the primary account holder to add a secondary account holder to a credit card. This person is known as an authorized user and can use the credit card as if it were their own. They are “authorized” to make purchases with the credit card. However, they have no legal responsibility toward the debt. Authorized users also gain access to most of the credit card’s benefits, such as airport lounge access, rental car protection, purchase protection and other perks.

While authorized users receive their own credit card, they do not have all the same permissions as the primary account holder. For example, authorized users typically cannot redeem rewards, request a credit line increase, close the account or add another authorized user. However, depending on the issuer, they may be able to obtain the account balance, request statement copies and make payments.

Authorized user vs. joint credit card vs. cosigner

Authorized userJoint cardholderCosigner
Who is responsible for the debt?Primary cardholderBoth cardholdersBoth the primary borrower and the cosigner
Credit check required?NoYes, for both cardholdersYes, for both the primary borrower and the cosigner
Can you remove the additional user?Yes, at any timeNot without the lender's permissionNot without the lender's permission

Pros of becoming an authorized user

Get easy access to a credit card.

Once the primary cardholder adds the authorized user to their account, the authorized user has immediate access to the credit card without a credit inquiry or needing to qualify for a new account.

Build credit quickly.

Authorized users benefit from an established credit line and positive payment history. Ideally, the card is several years old, has a positive payment history and a low credit utilization. These factors will help build your credit quickly.

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

Card issuers often close credit cards or reduce their credit limit if they aren’t used regularly — which can negatively impact the primary cardholder’s credit score. As an authorized user, you’ll keep the credit card active by making regular purchases on the card and making payments each month.

Help a friend or family member earn rewards.

Along with offering rewards on purchases made by the primary cardholder, many rewards credit cards offer rewards on purchases made by the card’s authorized user. Note, these rewards can typically only be redeemed by the primary cardholder.

Track family spending in a single account.

Tracking your spending is important when managing a family budget. Adding an authorized user makes it possible to have all of the family’s expenses on one card. This way, you won’t lose track of spending or have budget “leaks” that make it harder to understand where your money went each month.

Cons of becoming an authorized user

It could cause conflict with your family/friends.

The primary account holder is ultimately responsible for repaying all charges made with the credit card. So if you charge a substantial amount and struggle to pay your portion of the bill, the primary cardholder will have to cover it.

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

Conversely, if the primary cardholder has financial issues, such as late payments, a charge-off or a bankruptcy, it could appear on your credit report as well. Any of these negative items could lower your score and make it harder to graduate to your own credit card in the future.

The account holder can remove you at any time.

Because you are not an account owner, the primary cardholder can remove you anytime. You may not even be aware of the removal, which can lead to embarrassment if you try to make a purchase using the card, and it’s declined.

There may be an extra fee for it.

While some credit cards allow authorized users at no additional charge, others require an authorized user fee each year. This fee is typically less than the primary card’s annual fee.

Which credit card companies report authorized users?

One of the primary benefits of being an authorized user is building your credit history. If you are added to a card that doesn’t report authorized users, you’ll enjoy the card’s benefits, but it won’t improve your credit score.

IssuerRecommended cards
American ExpressThe Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card
Bank of AmericaBank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
Capital OneCapital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
ChaseChase Freedom Unlimited®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®
CitiCiti® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, Citi Premier® Card
U.S. BankU.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
Wells FargoBilt Mastercard®, Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

How many authorized users can be on a credit card?

The number of authorized users you’re allowed to add to your card varies depending on the issuer, and there may be a minimum age requirement. For example, Discover requires authorized users to be at least 15 years of age. Also know you may be subject to an annual fee for the authorized user account.

Adding an authorized user to a credit card

The exact process to add an authorized user varies among card issuers, but they generally follow the same procedures. Here’s how to add an authorized user to a credit card:

  1. Find someone willing to add you as an authorized user. Discuss how you’ll use the card and how you’ll make payments. Also, learn what benefits it offers and if there’s a fee for adding you.
  2. Provide your full name and date of birth to the primary cardholder. Some card issuers also require a Social Security number, so be prepared to provide that if necessary.
  3. Contact the card issuer. The primary cardholder will then contact the credit card company to add you as an authorized user.
  4. The card issuer mails your new card. Depending on their process, the new card may be mailed to the primary cardholder or directly to you.
  5. Activate the card when it arrives. Most card issuers allow you to register the card online or over the phone.
  6. Create your online profile. This allows you to monitor transactions and make payments.
  7. Start using the card. You can use it for everyday purchases or save it for emergencies.

Depending on the card issuer, you may have a spending limit lower than the card’s credit line or you may have access to the entire credit limit. Before you start spending, talk to the primary cardholder about your available credit limit and how you’ll use the card.

Alternatives to adding an authorized user

If you want to help your family member or friend establish or improve their credit — but don’t want to take on the risk of adding them as an authorized user — you may want to consider these alternatives instead:

Secured credit card. Secured credit cards are designed for individuals 18 or older with limited or poor credit history. These cards typically report to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and require a security deposit — which serves as a line of credit. In most cases, you can receive your security deposit back if you pay off your balance in full and close your account or transition to an unsecured card. Just know these cards often charge higher interest rates than standard credit cards.

Student credit card. If the individual looking to improve their credit is a student, a student credit card could be a good option. Similar to secured cards, student cards are designed for individuals with little or no credit; however, they do not require a security deposit. Student cards also typically offer rewards and sometimes even provide special incentives for good grades. Just know the student will have to be at least 18 to apply, and the application will ask to list a source of income.

Joint account holder. Adding the individual as a joint account holder is another option. This means you and the joint account holder will share the card’s credit limit as well as legal responsibility for paying the bill.

To open a joint account, you must apply for the credit card together. The card issuer will check each party’s credit and income information, and — if approved — you will each be issued a credit card with your name on it.

We should note the majority of banks do not currently offer joint credit card accounts.

The information related to U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card and Bilt Mastercard®  has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Frequently asked questions

To remove an authorized user from a card, either the primary cardholder or the authorized user can call the card issuer and ask that they be removed from the card. If there are any recurring charges billed to their card, the authorized user should contact that vendor and provide them with a new credit card number or another form of payment.

No. As an authorized user, you have permission to use the credit card, but the card issuer won’t hold you responsible for purchases. Additionally, if the card goes to collection, a debt collector can’t force you to pay the balance. However, if you spend too much and cannot repay the balance, the primary cardholder may attempt to collect money from you.

No. Although the authorized user is approved to make purchases, they do not have full access to the credit card account. Most banks don’t perform the same credit and income review of an authorized user as they do the primary cardholder.

Yes, an authorized user can apply for the same credit card if they meet the card’s credit and income requirements. Many authorized users eventually apply for their own credit card once their credit score has improved enough to qualify. This allows them to earn the welcome bonus, receive rewards on their purchases and enjoy all of the card’s benefits.

As with any credit card, you need to activate the authorized user’s card before they can begin making purchases. Some banks issue the same card number to each authorized user, while others issue individualized card numbers to make it easier to track who made each purchase.

The minimum age requirement for becoming an authorized user varies for each card issuer. Beyond the minimum age, it is important for the authorized user to be mature enough to be responsible with the credit card.

Yes, some card issuers allow authorized users to be added to secured credit cards. If you have a secured card, contact your bank to ask if you can add an authorized user.

 

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