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What to consider when getting a joint credit card

There could be more risks than benefits. But what about adding a partner as an authorized user?

couple holding a credit card
JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

One of the most complicated parts of a relationship is the sharing of finances. Combining your financial resources can be mutually rewarding and increase your collective buying power. But these types of joint credit cards come with some unusual risks, putting both parties on the hook for the debt -- even if only one person does the spending. As with any financial move or relationship milestone, it's best to consider all of the implications before signing up for a joint credit card. Here's what you need to know.

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How does a joint credit card work?

Joint credit cards accommodate two individual cardholders, who are both authorized to manage the card and make purchases. Both parties are also responsible for the card balance, regardless of who actually did the spending. In this way, a joint credit card doesn't split the responsibility in half; instead, each account holder is 100% responsible for the debt

As such, both of you will have to apply for a joint credit card, and the issuer will run a credit check on both of you. As with an individual credit card, a good credit score will be crucial to your approval -- but both of your credit histories may influence your eligibility. If one applicant has a low credit score, it could doom your chances for approval, even if your partner's credit score is excellent. 

If you're approved, all of the spending and payments will be reported on each cardholder's credit file. This is a big risk: If your partner maxes out the card or misses a payment, your credit score could suffer. On the other hand, it can make it easier to track your spending and there's only one annual fee to pay (if applicable) instead of two.

And, a warning: If things go bad, it can be difficult -- and sometimes impossible -- to remove a co-account holder of a joint credit card. 

Which banks and issuers offer joint credit cards?

This type of credit card is relatively uncommon because issuers prefer to have just one user ultimately on the hook for an account. That noted, there are three players offering joint credit cards today:

  • PNC Bank: Some applications have a dedicated section for a co-applicant, who will need to provide the basics: date of birth, Social Security number, phone and email address.
  • U.S. Bank: Once you're a cardholder, you can call U.S. Bank at 800-285-8585 and ask customer service to add a joint owner. They'll send you a form you'll both need to fill out and sign. If approved, your partner will receive a card in their name.
  • Credit unions: Many credit unions offer a joint credit card, including Veridian, AllSouth Credit Union and Credit Union of Denver. Contact your local branch to learn more.

Alternatives to consider

There are less risky alternatives that serve a similar purpose without locking both parties in -- for better or for worse. If you're looking to combine your finances, the following options may be more appealing.

Open a joint checking account

A joint bank account is easier to open -- and close -- than a joint credit card. It's a convenient way to share income and expenses. Most joint checking accounts will provide debit cards linked to the account. Though there remains the potential for one person to drain the account, they would not be able to rack up debt.

Make your partner an 'authorized user'

Adding an authorized user on a credit card is another simple way to approach this issue -- and it gives you more flexibility to bail if things get sticky. Call your card provider to add an additional user's name; you'll have to supply their date of birth and Social Security number. 

But you'll retain more control as the primary account holder, meaning you can add and remove users without penalty -- and without another person's authorization. That noted, you'll be solely responsible for any charges an authorized user makes. Some companies may charge you a modest fee for an additional card.

Adding an authorized user may also be a better option when one partner has a low credit score, which would not impact an approval decision. But it could help the authorized user improve their credit, since the account will show up on their credit report.

Joint credit card FAQs

What's the difference between a joint credit card and a co-signed credit card?

A joint credit card gives both applicants equal access to the card's credit limit and account management. Both individuals' credit will be equally impacted. Applicants typically apply for a joint credit card because they both intend to use it.

A co-signed credit card has one active, primary owner and a secondary, passive co-signer. The main applicant is the only one who is issued a card. The co-signer only provides a better credit score to help the applicant get approved. If the primary owner defaults, the co-signer is responsible for the unpaid bills and could see a larger impact on their credit.

Will adding someone to your credit card account boost their credit score?

Adding an authorized user is a great way to boost someone's credit score because they will have more credit available to them. However, any negative activity by either cardholder, such as maxing out the card or making late payments, could affect both the primary user's and the authorized user's credit.

How do I remove someone from my credit card account?

If the other person is an authorized user and you're the primary cardholder, all you need to do is call the credit card company and ask it to remove the user from your card account. If the other person attempts to use the card after they're removed from the account, the card will be declined. 

If you are joint credit card holders, removing someone from your credit card is harder. Both account holders must agree to close the account. Before you can close the card, the issuer will require you to pay off the balance. Keep in mind that closing a joint card could affect your credit score since you're reducing the amount of available credit you have. 

How do joint credit cards affect your credit score?

There are no joint credit scores, even if you have joint accounts together. Activity will be reported to each individual credit report, even if you're not the one who makes the payments or spends the most. Once you have a joint credit card, one person's financial habits can affect both of you positively or negatively.