Should I add my girlfriend to my card? She is 18 and cannot get a card because of student loans. Is there any downside to this? We are going to marry in the summer, so we are serious. She is in culinary school and I am working. Please give your advice.
There is a disadvantage to just about every decision. Sharing a credit card account with another person — even a loved one with whom you will surely spend the rest of your life — is no exception. But first, let's cover account ownership and what it entails.
Presumably, you are the sole owner of this account. The issuer granted the line based on your income and credit history. It's up to you to keep it in good standing. That means paying at least the minimum by the due date on the statement. Skip a cycle and the issuer will notify the credit bureaus, which will hurt your credit rating. If you stop paying altogether, your card company can pursue legal action against you.
Most credit card issuers allow owners to add people as
authorized users. To do so, it takes a quick phone call: You would provide your girlfriend's name, address and (usually) her Social Security number. The company would not check her credit report or want to know her salary because she would have guest status only. Legally, the account would remain 100 percent yours.
But, there are drawbacks:
The user can abuse privileges. In the event that your girlfriend is more of a shopper than you previously thought, you could end up in a lot of unintended debt. If you were to break up, she'd have the stuff she bought, and there's a good chance that you'd be stuck with the bill. You could fight it with the creditor and in court, and possibly even win, but the experience would be unpleasant at best.
Multiple users create complications. Even if your girlfriend charges within reason, you'd have to constantly communicate with each other so neither of you overdoes it. For example, you could make a snap decision to pay for a new tablet with your card, tapping out the credit line, but forget to tell her. Then, if she goes to charge a set of new knives before a crucial chopping class, she'd be out of luck.
Poor account management damages all cardholders' credit reports. The activity for the shared card will be listed on your and your girlfriend's credit reports. Her credit rating would benefit if the revolving balance remains under 30 percent of the credit limit and if you establish a perfect payment pattern. Falter, though, and both of you will get dinged.
So, is it wise to allow your girlfriend to piggyback on your plastic? If you trust her and the two of you communicate exceptionally well, yes, it can work out just fine. Yet, if all of this leaves you skittish, point her in the direction of her own account. When she gets a job, she may be able to get a secured credit card without having to rely on you for help.
Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.