Editorial Policy

Sharing a Card When One Partner Has Low Score

Erica Sandberg

March 21, 2013

QDear Erica,

If my husband has a FICO credit score of 812 and mine is 650, would the credit card companies average it to the middle when we apply for a card together? We would like to have a joint credit card, but are unsure of how that would work. — Lita

AHi Lita,

Mathematically speaking, the two of you do possess a mean score of 731. Yet while that's a decent FICO number, it's not what lenders will use to determine credit card qualification. Instead, they consider the individual pieces of financial and credit information for each person and then make a decision based on those factors.Ask Erica

If one applicant has an excellent credit rating (like your husband) and the other has a less-than-stellar one (like you), the bank might still consent to bringing both parties on board. This would be especially true if your combined household income is more than enough to support the credit line.

Then again, they may not. The credit issuer may believe that you're too much of a risk to be included as one of the account owners and deny the application altogether. To overcome such a setback, you have a few options:

Bring your scores up now, and apply together later. FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers indicating less lending risk. Your score isn't at the very bottom, but it is probably too low for premium loans or lines of credit.

So what should you do? Identify the reason the digits are drooping and do something about it. Maybe you don't have enough of a credit history established. In that case, keep using any cards you have (and making payments on time) or apply for a secured credit card so you can begin a positive charging pattern. If your credit is damaged because you owe too much money or have collection accounts, pay off those balances. Missed payment cycles? Start sending the money in on time and do so for at least a year. Once your scores are closer to your husband's, try again.

Become an authorized user. If all you want is the ability to use a single credit account for purchases, an authorized user arrangement could be your best bet. Most issuers allow account owners to let friends or family members enjoy charging access. You'd get a card with your name on it, although the account would still be your husband's.

As an authorized user, you won't be liable for any debt incurred, so your credit scores are irrelevant. The best part? You'll get credit for the account's history, meaning you can piggyback off your husband's high score.

Your husband may be able add you to an account that he has now, or he can get a new one and hook you up as a user later. Have him call the credit card company and ask how he can start the process. When you have your card, you can share the account equally, and the account activity will show up on both your credit reports.

Abandon the jointly held account idea, and live separate credit lives. Why complicate matters with a joint credit card in the first place? For some couples, things work best if each person enjoys his or her independence: you have your account, he has his. Just get together often to compare notes and make sure everything is the way it ought to be. As long as you maintain communication, a strong level of trust and a commitment to transparency (by reviewing bank statements and credit reports together), a jointly held card isn't necessary.

So take your pick of the ways you can deal with credit as a married couple. Just remember, you are individuals first and a duo second — and I'm not just referring to how you're perceived by lenders.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.