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Credit card authorized user: what to know and how to add one

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If you have shared expenses with a spouse or loved one, you might have considered making them a credit card authorized user on your account. Doing this allows the authorized user to make purchases with their own physical credit card that’s attached to your account.

Credit card authorized usership isn’t all fun and games, though. An authorized user can seriously hurt the primary cardholder’s credit history, so strict boundaries and responsibilities need to be put in place.

There are pros and cons to becoming or adding an authorized user, and we break them all down for you below.

What is an authorized user?

An authorized user is someone who has access to your credit but isn’t responsible for the debt, or making monthly payments.

By making someone an authorized user on your account, you grant them access to your credit card limit, meaning they can spend as they please but you remain the primary person responsible for paying off the debt.

How does being an authorized user affect your credit score?

The short answer? It likely doesn’t. Credit card companies don’t typically report authorized users to the credit bureaus, like Equifax and TransUnion. This means that the authorized user only has access to credit, but they aren’t actually building up a credit history of their own.

The long answer? Being an authorized user could impact your credit score, but — and this is important — only if the credit card issuer reports authorized users to the credit bureaus. Each credit card company has different policies around this so it’s best to check with yours first, particularly if your main goal in adding an authorized user to your account is to help them improve their credit score. It’s never a guarantee, so don’t count on building up your credit by becoming an authorized user.

That said, if the credit card issuer does indeed report authorized user activity to one of the credit reporting agencies, then the authorized user could benefit from credit building. It’s important for the authorized user to keep in mind, however, that their credit activity and history will then be determined by the behaviour of the primary cardholder.

If the primary cardholder has a good credit score and the issuer reports authorized users to the bureaus, the authorized user may benefit from a positive credit score impact. A good credit score is determined by several factors, including making payments on time and keeping your utilization ratio below 30%. In this scenario, if the primary cardholder is reckless with their credit, it could negatively impact the authorized user’s credit score.

Are authorized users responsible for payments?

No. Authorized users are not legally responsible for the debt of the primary cardholder, which is why it’s important to make sure that if you’re adding an authorized user to your account, it’s someone you trust.

This is one of the major benefits of being an authorized user, though: you’re not on the hook for making payments toward the primary cardholder’s balance. This is a nice way to have access to credit without the responsibility of being beholden to a payment schedule or interest charges.

However, authorized users shouldn’t take this as free rein to spend as much as they want. The primary cardholder is still solely responsible for making credit card payments, so any reckless behaviour will impact them directly.

Can an authorized user hurt the primary cardholder's credit score?

Yes. If you’re the authorized user on your partner’s credit card and you decide to go on a spending spree and don’t reimburse your partner for your purchases, you’re putting them in a difficult and unfair position.

As the primary cardholder, they may not be able to pay their balance on time and will incur interest charges. This could hurt their credit score (and likely their relationship with you, the authorized user).

It’s important that both the authorized user and the primary cardholder have a frank conversation about how the credit is to be used, how the authorized user will pay for any expenses they incur, etc.

Adding an authorized user may mean that the primary cardholder needs to increase their credit limit in order to avoid any issues and maintain a low credit utilization rate.

How to add authorized users to a credit card account

Adding an authorized user is fairly straightforward, but keep in mind that some credit cards charge a fee for additional/supplementary cards. You should read the fine print of your credit card agreement first so you know what the cost might be.

If you’re the primary account holder, you can request to add an authorized user in a few different ways:

  • Call the credit card company or the bank that issued the card.
  • Add an authorized user via your online banking or mobile app.

How to remove authorized users from a credit card account

There may come a time where you decide that you no longer want to have your partner or loved one as an authorized user on your credit card. Maybe they’ve proven themselves to be irresponsible with spending, or maybe your relationship has since ended and you need to ensure they don’t maintain access to your credit.

To remove an authorized user, simply call your credit card issuer or cancel the user’s access via your online banking or mobile app, where you should be able to manage any authorized users, including pausing their card, changing their PIN, or deleting them altogether.

In some instances, an authorized user may request to be removed from the credit card by talking to the bank or credit card issuer themselves.

How many authorized users can be on a credit card?

The number of authorized users you can have on your credit card depends on your bank.

If you’re an RBC customer, you can have up to nine authorized users on your credit card. But if you’re with Scotiabank, you can order up to 10 supplementary cards.

It’s in your best interest to compare credit cards to see which ones will charge you a fee for adding an authorized user, and how many users are allowed to be added.

Authorized users vs. co-signers and joint account holders

The key difference between authorized users and joint credit card holders, or co-signers, is that authorized user are not responsible for the primary cardholder’s debt, whereas joint borrowers or co-signers are.

Joint account holders are two people who share one account, whether it be a credit card or a bank account. Both can freely use the account and both are equally on the hook for any debt repayments.

Though authorized users can use their partner or loved one’s credit card freely like a joint account holder, they are not responsible, at the end of the month, to pay that debt back. Co-signers or joint borrowers, on the other hand, are.

Frequently asked questions

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