Editorial Policy

The Advantages of 'His' and 'Hers' Credit Cards

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

July 1, 2013

QHi Eva,

What do you think about getting married but not joining credit? My fiance and I are older than most folks are when they get married (in our late 40s), and we've just gotten so used to managing our financial lives separately. The idea of opening up a credit card together just doesn't appeal to me, but my fiance likes the idea of getting a rewards card account and getting a bunch of miles by feeding both my and his spending into it. Are there any other benefits I'm just not thinking of? Would having a shared credit history help us get a house or a shared car loan? I should mention that his credit score is excellent (in the high 700s), while mine is in the middle 700s. — Mallory

ADear Mallory,

The assumption that couples need to merge finances, including credit accounts, in my humble opinion, dates back to a time when men were the breadwinners and women were dependent upon their husbands' incomes.

Today, many couples now have separate sources of income and separate financial accounts. Maintaining “his,” “hers” accounts in your marriage will give you the liberty to decide which expenses to share and how to do it, while still retaining your independence.Ask Eva

Determining how to allocate shared income is difficult enough for most couples, but with credit accounts, it can be even harder. With a shared credit card, you are suddenly put in a position where you have to agree on every single purchase you charge to the card and how much each of you pays. If your husband-to-be really wants a new flat-screen TV and heads off to Best Buy to charge it to your shared rewards card, who is responsible for the bill? Does he pay for it in its entirety? Or do you end up having to pay half, using money you'd rather have saved toward a family vacation?

These are the kind of tricky questions that sharing a credit card will bring up, no matter how responsible you each are financially. Making one of you an authorized user on the credit card isn't much better: The person whose name is on the account is now solely responsible for the other person's charges — again irrespective of whether he or she agreed to them. This all too easily (and unnecessarily) adds an element of tension that you really don't want to invite into your life.

In my opinion, the only time sharing credit cards make sense is when one spouse has poor or no credit and the other spouse wants to help him or her along. By adding the other person to a credit account with good payment record, it can boost the other person's credit score, a practice known as piggybacking.

But you both have excellent credit, so there really is little reason to share credit, and several good reasons not to share. You are obviously both very responsible when it comes to managing credit, given your scores. So why set yourself up for more complications than you need?

Sharing a card won't necessarily help you when it comes to getting a mortgage or card loan together. Lenders will pull both of your individual credit scores, and that's what they'll use to make their decision — not whether you share a card.

The logic in sharing a rewards credit card to earn more miles doesn't really bear out either. If you each have your own airline rewards credit card with the same airline, you will earn rewards just as quickly, and you'll have more flexibility in how you redeem rewards. You can buy tickets for each other using miles from your accounts, should one account have more miles than the other. If you need to pool miles to get to a certain rewards threshold, you can transfer rewards earnings between accounts. In some cases, airlines even feature limited time bonus mile offers for transfers.

Because it's common for married couples to share expenses (such as household expenses), you might consider getting a joint credit card for that purpose. It could even be a rewards card — just make sure your joint expenses each year will earn you enough rewards to justify any annual fee. If sharing credit makes you uncomfortable, though, you might simply consider opening a joint checking account for shared expenses.

So there you have it. Trust your instincts, and don't let anyone persuade you otherwise. You can still rack up points and miles without sharing a rewards credit card. I'm sure your fiance, once he gets a chance to contemplate the downsides of sharing credit, will agree.

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