Opening a joint credit card with someone you trust — meaning a spouse, partner, trusted friend, or family member — can seem like a good idea. You’re both 100% financially responsible for paying off the balance on the card. Plus, you both share privileges of making changes to the account, earning rewards, and using the card much the way you would as a primary cardholder of a solo account.
But before you jump in and sign up for a joint credit card, you’ll want to understand how having such a card can affect your credit, both good and bad. Plus, it’s wise to understand the ground rules for managing such an account successfully.
Here, you’ll learn:
• What are joint credit cards?
• How do joint accounts work for a credit card?
• How can a joint credit card impact your credit?
• What are the pros and cons of a joint credit card?
• What are alternatives to a joint credit card?
Mulling over this intel can help you make the decision of whether or not a joint credit card is right for you.
What Are Joint Credit Cards?
Just as the name suggests, a joint credit card is one that permits two users to share a single credit line. In turn, as primary cardholders, each individual is able to make purchases on the card, as well as update and manage account information. Plus, they’re each 100% responsible for paying off the card balance.
When applying for such a card, both individuals’ credit scores and credit histories are reviewed. So if you both have strong credit scores, it could boost your odds of getting approved for a credit card with higher credit limits and favorable rates, terms, and perks.
But what might happen when one of you has a lower credit score? In that case, it could potentially hurt the odds of your getting approved for a credit card. Or it might lead to your being offered less favorable rates, terms, and lower credit limits. However, it could benefit the person with the lower score, as they’re piggybacking off the co-applicant’s higher credit score.
How Do Joint Accounts Work for Credit Cards?
As mentioned, both people will need to apply for a credit card. This means that the credit card issuer will review your respective credit scores and profiles. You both are equally responsible for paying off the balance on the card, and you each also have full rights to manage and make changes to the account. Plus, you can each make credit card charges, swiping or tapping at will.
A common misconception is that if you share a joint credit card account, your credit histories and scores will be merged. Not at all: Credit scores will always be looked at on an individual basis. In other words, the credit card payments on joint accounts will be reported to the credit bureaus, and this will be reflected on each user’s credit history.
How to Manage a Joint Credit Card Account
How you manage a joint credit card account is largely up to you and the co-owner on the account. While you both have full privileges to the account and can make changes, do you want to touch base before making any changes? Do you want to establish a monthly spending limit? It can be wise to agree to how you will use the account and what guardrails you may want in place before applying.
As for payments, you have decisions to make about who pays the bill. For instance:
• You might decide it’s best to have one co-owner make payments and have the other person pay them back.
• You could alternate making payments. That is, one account holder pays the January bill; the other takes care of February, and so forth.
• Another payment guideline could be that you tally who bought what during each billing cycle and have each person be responsible for their fair share.
Impact of a Joint Credit Card on Your Credit Score
You are likely to be wondering, do joint accounts affect your credit score and can these credit cards help establish or maintain good credit? They can. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
• As all credit card payments on a joint account are reported to the credit bureaus, if you stay on top of payments, a joint account can help establish your credit. They can also help build your credit history.
• On the flip side, if you fall behind on payments or the account goes to collections, that can negatively impact your credit score. Debt gone to collections will stay on your respective credit reports for seven years.
• Another way joint credit cards can impact your credit is credit utilization. If you run up a high balance and are using close to your credit limit, then it could depress your score. But if you keep a low credit usage ratio, then it could help establish or build credit from scratch.
• Opening any credit card can affect your credit card history, which is another factor that plays into your credit score as tracked by the three credit bureaus.
Open too many credit cards in a short time period, and that may not be a positive thing; it looks as if you are trying to quickly access a lot of credit. But if you open a joint account and stay in good standing, it can lengthen each of your credit histories, which can be good.
Joint Credit Card vs Authorized User vs Cosigner
You might’ve heard the terms “authorized user” and “cosigner” tossed around when considering credit cards. While they both imply a level of joint usage on a credit card, they actually mean very different things.
• An authorized user is a person you add to your account. They can use the card to make purchases. However, you remain the account holder and are fully responsible for paying off the card. And as the account holder, you are the only person authorized to manage and make changes to the account.
Your credit card payments are also reported on the authorized user’s credit file. So if you stay on-time with your debt payoff, this could establish or maintain your authorized user’s credit score.
• A cosigner is someone who agrees to share financial responsibility on a credit card account. If you have a low credit score or are building credit from scratch, a lender will take into consideration the cosigner’s credit. A cosigner’s strong credit could help you get approved for a credit card you might otherwise not be granted.
Furthermore, should you fall behind on payments, the cosigner is financially responsible for your paying off the balance.
Benefits of Joint Credit Card Accounts
Here’s a look at some of the advantages of having a joint credit card account:
• Can help you land better credit card offers. If you both have strong credit scores, then it could potentially improve the chances of getting credit cards with higher credit limits and better terms and rates.
Should one of you have a lower credit score, it might help that person get approved for a better credit card.
• Shared financial responsibility. If both co-owners of the credit card account are responsible and do their share to pay off the balance, it could help you stay on top of payments.
• Streamlines bills. Instead of having two separate credit cards, putting both people’s transactions on a single account could simplify payments. You have one fewer bill to manage.
• Can help build credit history. If one applicant is starting from scratch in terms of building a credit history, a joint account can help them establish themselves if payments are made on time and the credit utilization is kept low.
Disadvantages of Joint Credit Card Accounts
Now, consider the potential downsides of a joint account:
• Shared financial responsibility. This is one of those “could be a pro, could be a con” factors. Why’s that? Well, if one person is doing most of the spending, you’re both on the hook for making payments. This could potentially get complicated if one person isn’t pulling their weight, financially speaking.
• Potential personal complications. Should your relationship change or you end up fighting over transactions and other financial matters, a joint credit card could wind up being a difficult thing. Also, having a shared account could lead to each of you scrutinizing one another’s spending habits, for better or for worse.
• Confusion over who pays for what and when. Even if you set up some basic guidelines, you might find yourself in a quandary as to who pays for what. A joint credit card could become a source of stress or arguing in this way if you can’t develop a good, fair system for paying.
Factors to Consider Before You Open a Joint Account
Before making a decision on whether to open a joint credit card account, you’ll need to decide on how doing so can benefit both parties. It can be wise to work through the following points:
• Can a joint credit card help boost the odds of getting a credit card with better rates, terms, and more attractive perks? How can it help build both people’s credit histories?
• Another important consideration is the payment arrangement. Who is responsible for making the payments? Or will you set it on autopay and link it to one person’s account? Who will be responsible for going through each billing statement and figuring out which transaction belongs to which user?
• If you’re sharing a joint account with someone, it might be a good idea to have a savings account that serves as a cash cushion. You could each contribute a small amount every week, so it’s there in case money gets tight and you need help covering a credit card bill.
Do You Trust the Joint Account Holder?
As a joint credit card can impact your credit and financial situation, you likely need to truly trust the other party involved. If you’re relying on the other person to make payments on your behalf, can you count on them to do so? Also, it’s important that both parties are in a financially sound place where they can cover their share of the bill.
You also want to feel reassured that the co-account holder isn’t the type to splurge and put an extravagant purchase on the card. For instance, if you usually put, say, $250 a month on your credit card, you will likely want to know how much the other person usually rings up, as well as if they ever go buying sprees.
Are There Other Options to Consider?
Understanding exactly how a joint credit card works, what your respective responsibilities are, and how it impacts your finances and credit is important.
If a joint credit card doesn’t seem like the right fit, you can look into alternatives. These include keeping separate credit cards and possibly, if one person is building their credit from scratch, using a secured credit card.
Or the individual with a stronger credit history could add the other as an authorized user on their credit card account, as described above.
Tips for Removing for Partner From Your Accounts
Unlike an authorized user, where you can simply remove someone from your account, you usually can’t remove one co-owner on a joint credit card. Typically, you need to close the account entirely.
Either person has the power to close the account. However, both parties will be responsible for making payments until the balance goes to zero. So, you’ll likely want to have a discussion before doing so. When would be a good time to close the account, and how will you go about handling paying off the remaining balance? Communication is key to making sure that closing the account doesn’t become a difficult situation.
Opening any credit card comes with an array of financial considerations to think over. And if you’re considering a joint credit card, it’s important to know how it can impact your credit, financial situation, and be aware of any potential quagmires. Typically, both applicants’ credit histories will be reviewed when seeking one of these cards, and each party, if given this kind of access to credit, will have full use of the account and full responsibility for the balance. If handled well, this can help establish and maintain your credit.
Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.
How do shared finances affect my credit rating?
Sharing your bank accounts and budgets doesn’t inherently impact your credit rating. But when you open a joint credit card account, it can impact your credit histories, credit history length, and credit usage. With both parties responsible for the balance, it’s wise to think carefully about this kind of account. Another option is to be an authorized user on someone’s account who makes on-time payments and keeps their credit usage low.
Do both users on a joint credit card have the same credit score?
While both users on a joint credit card can be affected by the payment history and credit usage on the joint account, credit histories are always on an individual basis.
In other words, there’s no such thing as a shared credit account, and many factors go into someone’s credit score. So having a joint credit card doesn’t merge your scores or mean you’ll have the exact same score.
Is it advisable to open a joint account with my friend?
While you can open a joint credit card account with a friend, whether it’s a good idea depends on your financial habits and the level of trust between you two. Can they be trusted not to overspend and to do their part in paying off any credit card balance? A lot of discussion will need to take place before making this decision.
Photo credit: iStock/Jelena Danilovic
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