Editorial Policy

Want to be an authorized card user? Think twice…

Allie Johnson

March 19, 2014

A word of caution: Before you let someone add you as an authorized user on his credit card, make sure he’s meticulous about paying his bill.

I got a bit of a shock recently when I checked my credit score and saw that my FICO score, which was excellent a few months ago, had dipped. I took a closer look and found a negative mark on my Equifax credit report — a recent 30-day late payment.

I’m meticulous about paying the credit cards on time, so I wondered if it was a mistake. It wasn’t: The account was my husband’s credit card, the one where he added me as an authorized user.

All of our other credit cards are for big purchases and travel, and I manage all of those accounts, checking them regularly and paying the bills on time. The card in question was the one I don’t handle: My husband got it for his own “want money” purchases after I complained about trying to keep track of all of the little purchases he used to make on our joint debit card. Out of habit, he added me as an authorized user on his card.

One of Joe’s sometimes endearing (and sometimes not) qualities is that he tends to be a bit spacey, misplacing his keys and his phone and, apparently, forgetting to pay his credit card. For a month. (He publicly admits this. He recently tweeted: “I’d forget my brain if it didn’t remember itself.”)

But, here’s the good thing about being an authorized user: The primary cardholder is the one responsible for paying the bill. It’s different from having a joint account, when both cardholders are responsible, according to Experian. Joint accounts are becoming less common. For example, CNN Money reported that Chase did away with that option last year.

Since I was just an authorized user, I knew I could get the negative information off of my credit report. I called Capital One right away and asked to be removed from Joe’s card. Then, I filed a dispute with Equifax to get the information taken off of my credit report. Equifax is still investigating, but I’m confident it will be removed. It’s a little nerve-wracking, though.

Getting added as an authorized user on someone else’s account isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As CardWatchDog.com points out, it can be a good way to build credit, as long as the person who adds you has great credit and pays his bills on time.

And for some, it’s just a matter of convenience. With one card,  Joe is the primary account holder, and I’m an authorized user. With others, I’m the primary account holder, and he’s an authorized user. That can make life easier. For example, when our heat stopped working on the coldest day of winter, and we needed a new air handler, we wanted to put it on the household card that’s in Joe’s name, but he wasn’t home. I was able to pull out the card for that account that has my name on it and pay the repairman.

So here’s what I’ve learned. If there’s a good reason — such as credit-building or convenience — then by all means have your spouse add you as an authorized user on his or her credit card. But, know that payment information, both positive and negative, will show up on your credit report as long as you’re an authorized user.

If you’re not the one who pays the account, talk to your spouse about making sure payments are paid on time. You may even want to  monitor the account or set up payment alerts to make sure you don’t get the surprise of finding a black mark on your credit, like I did.