A joint credit card account is a way for you and a spouse, partner, family member, or trusted friend to co-own a line of credit. A joint credit card is in both of your names, meaning both parties are equally responsible for the debt that the card accrues.
Joint credit cards can make sharing finances with a domestic partner easier, but if you’re not on the same page about using the card and paying off debt, it could mean trouble for your credit score and your relationship. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how joint credit cards work, their pros and cons, how they differ from authorized users, and how to get a joint credit card.
What Is a Joint Credit Card Account?
A joint credit card allows two people to fully share in the responsibility of spending with a credit card and paying it off. Each cardholder receives a physical card to use, and each also has full access to credit card statements and payments.
Otherwise, a joint credit card operates just like a traditional credit card — with a credit limit and interest rate on borrowed funds. If you carry over a balance month to month, that balance will accrue interest, and both joint account owners are equally on the hook for paying it back, even if one person is doing most of the spending.
Because a joint credit card is in both owners’ names, it impacts both users’ credit scores. Making regular monthly payments in full and maintaining a low credit utilization could improve both cardholders’ scores. On the other hand, late payments and accumulated debt might bring credit scores down.
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Ways You Can Share a Credit Card
Joint credit card accounts are just one type of shared credit card. Before deciding to apply for a joint credit card, consider whether adding someone as an authorized user on a credit card might be a better option for your situation.
Instead of applying for a credit card with a co-owner, you can make someone an authorized user on an existing credit card. Unlike with a joint account credit card, only one person serves as the cardholder and bears the full responsibility of the card.
The authorized user, on the other hand, can get their own physical card and use it as they see fit. However, the authorized user cannot make larger changes to the card, like requesting an increase in credit limit.
Some, though not all, credit card issuers report authorized users’ activity to the three major credit bureaus. Assuming the main cardholder uses the card responsibly (meaning they make on-time payments and keep credit utilization low), this can reflect well on the authorized user and potentially improve their credit score.
Adding an authorized user can be a good solution for spouses or domestic partners with shared expenses. If one partner has a strong credit score but the other is struggling, the struggling partner might benefit from becoming an authorized user on the other’s card. Additionally, parents who want their children to learn about using a credit card or find comfort knowing their teenage kids have a spending option in emergencies might also benefit from a card with an authorized user.
A caveat: If the main credit cardholder mismanages their credit card and the card issuer reports authorized users to the credit bureaus, this could potentially lower the authorized user’s score rather than helping to build it.
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As previously mentioned, joint cardholders share equal responsibility for how the card is used and paid off. Just as there are pros and cons of joint bank accounts, this arrangement can have benefits and drawbacks. A joint credit card enables spouses and domestic partners to approach their finances on equal footing, but a poorly managed card can have major negative impacts on the other.
Sharing a joint credit card requires implicit trust between the co-owners. Partners who disagree about managing finances might not find a joint credit card a good option.
Differences Between Authorized Users and Joint Accounts
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between authorized users and joint accounts.
Joint cardholders share the same level of privileges on a credit card. Authorized users, however, cannot increase the credit limit or add additional authorized users. On top of that, primary cardholders can sometimes impose spending limits on authorized users.
Number of Users
Two co-owners share a joint credit card account. With an authorized credit card, there is a single primary cardholder and one or more authorized users. The max number of permissible authorized users varies by card issuer. SoFi, for example, lets you add up to five.
Both co-owners share equal responsibility for a joint credit card account. Authorized users are not responsible for payments, but how the credit card is managed can impact the authorized user’s credit score.
Impact on Credit Score
Both joint credit cards and cards with authorized users can impact credit scores of everyone attached to the card. Authorized users just have less control over how the card is managed, so they must put their faith in the hands of the primary cardholder.
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Pros of a Joint Credit Card Account
What are the benefits of a joint credit card? Here are some potential perks of this setup:
• Equal control: Spouses and domestic partners who want equal control of their finances can benefit from a joint credit card, which affords them equal access to spending, statements, and payments.
• Convenience of one shared card: If you share finances with a partner, having one credit card with one payment date might be easier than juggling multiple cards and due dates.
• Potential to boost credit score or get a better rate: If one co-owner lacks a credit history or has a lower credit score, being a co-owner on a well-managed joint credit card could boost their score. The person with the lower score might even qualify for a card with a better rate by applying with a joint cardholder.
Cons of a Joint Credit Card Account
There are some drawbacks to joint credit cards, however:
• Shared repercussions for mismanagement: If one co-owner maxes out the card or misses a payment they said they would make, both cardholders share the burden, which can include late fees, a credit score impact, or growing interest. And if your partner decides not to do anything about the growing credit card debt, you could be on your own in paying off their shopping spree.
• Difficulty of removing someone: Removing someone from a joint credit card can be challenging. Your only option for getting out of a bad situation might be paying off and closing the card.
• Possibility of damage to the relationship: If you and a partner do not share the same financial philosophy, entangling your debts might do more harm than good. Couples who already fight about making financial decisions may find that sharing a joint credit card is detrimental to their relationship.
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Applying for a Joint Credit Card
Does a joint account sound right for your situation? Here’s how to apply for a joint credit card:
1. Find a credit card issuer with a joint credit card option: Not every credit card issuer offers joint cards. Understand that your options will be more limited than if you applied for a credit card by yourself. Just as you would if you were choosing a joint bank account, take the time to compare a few options and find a joint credit card you’re both happy with.
2. Understand the qualification requirements: Read the fine print to make sure you and your co-owner can qualify. It’s not just your own credit score and credit history you have to consider; credit card issuers will be reviewing both applicants to determine if you can get a joint credit card.
3. Fill out the application: Have all of the necessary information for both applicants handy. It’s a good idea to apply together at a computer, if possible.
4. Set the ground rules: Make sure both of you are on the same page about how you will use the card and who is responsible for making on-time payments. If you’re not sure where to start, check out these basic credit card rules, which can promote healthy card usage.
Joint credit cards give both co-owners equal responsibility for credit card usage and payments. Using a joint credit card can be a good way to combine finances and help boost a partner’s credit score. However, applicants might benefit from going the authorized user route instead. Understanding the risks of both options is important before completing a joint credit card application or making someone an authorized user on an existing card.
Do joint credit cards affect both credit scores?
Joint credit cards affect both users’ credit scores equally. A well-managed card that is paid off in full each month might boost both users’ scores. On the other hand, regularly late payments and a high credit utilization could bring both scores down.
Can I add someone to my credit card as a joint account holder?
Not every credit card issuer offers joint account credit cards. However, most allow you to add authorized users to existing credit cards. Contact your credit card issuer to learn more.
What requirements are needed to get a joint credit card account?
Requirements for getting a joint credit card account will vary by credit card issuer. Credit card companies typically consider factors like age, credit score, and income to determine whether you can get a joint credit card.
Photo credit: iStock/gorodenkoff
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