Difference Between a Joint Account Holder and an Authorized User

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You can share a credit card with another person by adding them as an authorized user or by applying as joint account holders. The two arrangements give you each different responsibilities for the balance, so think carefully before you move ahead.

With both authorized user and joint credit cards, both people on the credit card account can make charges to the card. There's one credit limit, one balance, one payment, and one payment due date.

The credit card account history are reported on both of your credit reports, regardless of who actually uses the account.

Who's Responsible For the Balance?

The major difference between an authorized user and a joint account holder is the legal obligation to pay the credit card balance.

An authorized user has no legal obligation to repay the credit card debt. Though late payments will affect the authorized user's credit history as long as they're on the account, the credit card issuer can't pursue that person for payment.

On the other hand, the joint account holder is as liable for paying back the credit card balance as the primary account holder. The credit card issuer can use all legal methods to go after both people for payment.

In many cases, each joint account holder must meet the credit and income requirements to be added to the account and can be denied if the requirements aren't met.

On the other hand, an authorized user can usually be added to an established account regardless of the user's credit history.

Establishing the Account

You can add an authorized user to a new or existing credit card account at any time. Simply call your credit card issuer and give the authorized user's information.

The card issuer will add the authorized user, no credit check required, and send a credit card with their name on it.

To get a joint credit card, the two of you must apply for the credit card together. The credit card issuer will check both applicants' credit and income information to approve the application. If you're approved, you'll both be added to the account and issued credit cards with your names.

How Credit Card Sharing Goes Wrong

A joint account can be problematic if the two accountholders end their relationship, especially if the account still has a balance. You can't easily remove a person from a joint account, even if one person made all the charges on the account. The two of you will have to come up with an amicable way to resolve the balance (like paying it off or transferring the balance) and close the account.

An authorized user can be removed from a credit card with a simple phone call. The authorized doesn't not have a legal liability to repay the balance they charged; removing the person from the account can keep them from running up a high balance out of spite or revenge.

Sharing a credit card is risky, whether you have a joint account or you've added an authorized user.

If you're thinking about getting a credit card with someone, like a child or spouse, consider the legal liability of paying the balance and the ease of ending the credit card relationship to help you decide.