Editorial Policy

Can I use a spouse's credit cards?

Erica Sandberg

November 12, 2013

QDear Erica,

Can I use my wife's credit cards? I don't have credit cards and she does. What am I supposed to do? — Gus

Dear Gus,

In a situation such as this, it's best to remember that “can” and “should” are two very different things. While it may be possible to pick up your wife's card and charge with it, unless you have her permission, you absolutely shouldn't. Without the card owner's consent — yes, even if that person is your spouse — using the cards would be simultaneously illegal and immoral.Ask Erica

It sounds to me that what you want is to be able to use a credit card, though, and this I support. Get your own account. If your credit is damaged or you've never used a card before, you may have to start small and work your way up.

A secured credit card, which requires you to put down a deposit to secure the credit line, is usually the best way in. Secured cards are easier to obtain than unsecured cards because the bank assumes very little lending risk. Most of the time, you just need a steady income to qualify. You'll need to put a certain amount of cash down with the issuer, which it keeps in a special savings account in case you don't pay your bill. Typically, the credit line is fairly close to your deposit, so if your deposit is $500, that would be your charging limit — although some cards let you secure a line that's a bit bigger. You can use the card anywhere an unsecured card is accepted. By consistently spending with it and paying on time and in full, you'll create a positive credit pattern in about a year. Then you may be able to meet the requirements for an unsecured card with a larger credit line.

Another option is to ask your wife to go in on a credit card with you. There are two ways to go about that. First, she could co-sign on a new account with you, meaning that you're opening an account together — and both taking responsibility for payments. If your wife's credit rating is high, it may be enough to give the bank confidence that you'll both keep the account in good standing. It would be very important that the bills get paid on time, as both of your credit reports will be negatively affected if you don't.

Your wife could also add you as an authorized user to one of her accounts. This means that your wife is still the sole owner of the account and would ultimately be held responsible for payments. Yet, assuming she (and you) keeps up with them, your credit would get a lift from being associated with the account. An authorized-user arrangement poses a big risk to your wife, though. If you run up charges you can't afford to pay off, she's left with the bill (and possible credit damage).

Remember, your wife's credit card is her personal property and she has every right to say “no” if you request to use it. Leave it at that.

Oh, and in the event that you did use your wife's card without her approval, I would advise her to contact the authorities to press charges against you. That would be fraud, and you'd be a criminal.

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