Building credit can take time and effort. However, an authorized user on a credit card can get a little help establishing their history. Adding an authorized user can make sense if you want to help someone get a leg up on their credit, or if you want to provide an easy way for them to access financial resources.
If you’re trying to figure out if it’s smart to add an authorized user to one of your credit card accounts, here’s what you need to know.
What is an authorized user on a credit card?
An authorized user on a credit card is someone who has permission to use your account. They have a card issued in their own name, which allows them to make purchases and access your credit account.
While it’s possible to add just about anyone to your card, adding immediate family members is one of the most common uses. Often primary card holders add a spouse or a child in an effort to make it easier for them to share expenses or perhaps build credit for the first time.
It’s important to understand, however, that an authorized user isn’t a main account holder. You’re solely responsible for the account, but you’re giving someone else the ability to use the account for their own purchases.
For example, when I was married, my husband added me as an authorized user to his credit card accounts. I received a credit card in the mail with his account number, but the card was in my own name. When I made purchases, they went on his credit card account balance, but I was authorized to sign the receipt. So it was easy to buy things using his account.
Pros and cons of adding an authorized user
Adding an authorized user to a credit card comes with advantages and disadvantages. Before you give someone access to your account, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons and determine how they fit into your situation.
- Help the authorized user build credit: An authorized user can benefit from your positive credit history. Your credit card payment activity appears on the authorized user’s credit report. If you reliably pay off the card every month, that positive payment history may help improve their credit score.
- Convenience: If you want someone to be able to make purchases with ease, an authorized user can do so in their own name. Adding my teenage son as an authorized user would make it easy for him to cover emergency expenses while away from home.
- Easy to add an authorized user: In many cases, it’s easy to add an authorized user, since there’s usually no credit check required. It can be harder to add someone as a joint account holder.
- Might get a reward bonus: Some credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer you extra points for adding an authorized user.
- Their spending adds to your rewards: Additionally, many rewards cards, including the American Express Gold Card, take spending by authorized users and add it to your own rewards balance.
- You’re responsible for all charges: When you add an authorized user to your credit card, you’re responsible for all the charges they make — even if you asked them not to spend on certain purchases.
- Potential for damage to your credit: If an authorized user runs up charges you have trouble paying, you could see a drop in your credit score. You might end up with a high debt utilization ratio or begin missing payments.
- Some issuers charge you for additional cards: Depending on the card issuer, you might have to pay a fee for each extra card, or you might have to pay an annual fee for an additional user.
- An authorized user might have access to your account: While there are limits to what an authorized user can do with your account, you might not want the authorized user to have much access to your account details. Discover, for instance, points out that its authorized users can obtain account information, including getting access to statements. If you want to keep your information private, adding an authorized user can be a disadvantage.
Is it smart to add an authorized user to your credit card?
Before adding an authorized user to a credit card, consider whether it makes sense in your situation. Figure out why you want to add someone as an authorized user and whether adding them will help you reach your goals.
Consider whether you can trust the authorized user. You might want to add your child as an authorized user to your credit card, but do you trust them to make wise spending choices? Have they shown they can be responsible? Before adding anyone to your account, review their past and current financial habits.
It’s also important to have good communication with someone when you add them as an authorized user. If you add your significant other, make sure you touch base on major purchases. This way you don’t reach your credit limit too quickly, and you stay on the same page.
Next, consider the fees your account might charge to add additional users. You might not want to pay for another card in the authorized user’s name, even if you decide the authorized user is responsible and can be trusted.
Additionally, consider the type of control you have over the account as the main cardholder. For example, American Express cards allow you to set spending limits for authorized users, a benefit that can be especially helpful if you’re adding your child. See if your account has ample tracking functions as well. It can be helpful to break out your authorized user’s spending from your own so you see exactly where your money is going.
Should you get a joint account instead of adding an authorized user?
Not every credit card issuer allows you to have a joint account holder, so it might not even be an option for you. However, if you’re allowed to have a joint account holder, it’s important to note that you are both equally responsible for the account. Additionally, a joint account holder has equal privileges, so they can choose to close the account, add authorized users, and access the account in its entirety.
It might be easier to merge finances if you’re a couple, but a joint account can also cause problems if you split up. When I got a divorce, we had to close our joint account because it wasn’t possible to remove one of the account holders. By contrast, removing my ex as an authorized user on my credit cards was simple and quickly done.
Carefully consider the situation and the level of control you want the other person to have. You might be better off just sticking with authorized users.
How to add an authorized user to your credit card account
Each credit card issuer has its own requirements for authorized users, so you’ll need to confirm exact eligibility rules with your issuer.
Some of the information you’re likely to need in order to add an authorized user to your credit card includes:
- Full name
- Social Security number
You might also need to provide a phone number or address for the additional user. Many credit card issuers allow you to add an authorized user by calling the customer service number or simply by logging into your online account management.
|Card issuer||Minimum age of user||How to add user|
|American Express||13||Log in here to add a user or call customer support.|
|Bank of America||None||Log in and add from “Information and Services.”|
|Barclays||13||Log in and select from the “Services” menu.|
|Capital One||None||Select “Add user” here, then log into your account.|
|Chase||None||Log in here to add a user.|
|Citi||None||Log in here to add a user.|
|Discover||15||Find directions here to add a user.|
|Fidelity||16||Log in and select “Credit Card Snapshot.”|
|Wells Fargo||None||Log in in and use the Account Services tab.|
In the end, whether it’s a smart idea to add an authorized user depends on your situation and your goals. Adding an authorized user to your credit card can be convenient, and it may even help a loved one improve their credit — while still limiting some of their access to your account.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re responsible for all charges, so it’s a good idea to make sure you have adequate control over the situation and that you trust the authorized user to be responsible.