Should You Become an Authorized User?

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Becoming an authorized user can help you build credit and make life easier for a family. An authorized user is allowed to use someone else's credit card—usually, a family member’s like a spouse or parent. You can get a separate card or use the same one as the cardholder.

While being an authorized user can boost your credit, the benefits are limited. To establish credit history, consider becoming an authorized user and building your credit in other ways, like getting a secured credit card.

What Is an Authorized User? 

An authorized user is someone who can make purchases on your credit card but isn’t legally obligated to pay the balance. It’s easy to sign someone up as an authorized user online or over the phone with a few pieces of information like their address, name, and birth date. You can order a separate card or have them use your credit card. You can have several authorized users on a single credit card, usually up to five. If the person is under 18, they can still usually be an authorized user on a parent or guardian's account.

You get some privileges as an authorized user, but not the same ones as the cardholder. You can make purchases, find the available balance, and make payments. You can also report a missing card and dispute a fraudulent charge. Authorized users aren't able to make changes to the account, though. For instance, they can't close the account, add another user, or change the address.

Authorized Users and Credit

Becoming an authorized user could improve your credit score, but not always, and typically not in a drastic way. Check to see if the creditor sends authorized users’ activity to the major credit bureaus. Most do, but not all. If you're trying to build your credit, you want to make sure being an authorized user will count toward your history.

When you're a user on someone’s account who has a solid history of on-time payments and low credit utilization, it can help your credit. On the flip side, if you're connected to someone with a lower credit score or a spotty payment history, your credit might suffer. For instance, if the cardholder misses a payment, your score could be affected, because it will also be reported on your history. That’s why it’s important to select someone you trust. Choose someone who you know will pay on time and not let their balance lapse. You can even have an upfront conversation about credit history and payments before being added as an authorized user to their credit card.

Just because you won't be legally responsible for your charges, you may have a different arrangement with family. For example, Asher is an authorized user on his mom's credit card. She pays for his groceries and utilities, but he is responsible for discretionary spending like going to the movies. Still, if the authorized user like Asher refuses to pay their portion, the cardholder remains responsible for covering it. If the cardholder doesn’t pay or can't pay the balance, it could harm you more than help you.

Ways to Build Credit

Besides becoming an authorized user, there are other ways to build your credit. Try a combination of different approaches to build your history and show that you’re a responsible borrower.

  • Try a rent reporting service: Put your monthly payments toward your credit history by signing up for a rent reporting service. Proof of your payments is sent to the major credit bureaus. You'll have to pay a small fee for the service, but it's a low-risk way to create a credit history for payments you already make.
  • Apply for a secured credit card: Most credit cards are unsecured but require an established credit history. Secured credit cards allow you to put down collateral, such as a $500 cash deposit, in case you don’t pay your bills. These cards are for those without much credit history because the deposit guarantees payment to the lender if you don't make payments. In most cases, secured credit cards carry higher fees and interest rates than normal unsecured cards.
  • Have someone cosign on a loan: Whether you’re purchasing a vehicle or need more funds for college, having someone cosign on a loan can help build your credit. Banks and lenders will often give out small loans to those without much credit history, as long as they have a solid cosigner backing them.
  • Choose a student credit card: If you’re in college, build credit with a student card. You may be approved even with no credit history. You might have a lower credit limit, such as $500 or $1,000, but the card allows you to spend on credit and build trust with creditors.

Practicing smart financial habits, like building your credit or having a personal budget, reaps rewards both now and in the future. Being an authorized user is one practical way to go about improving your overall financial health when done correctly. With a higher credit score and stronger finances, you can achieve bigger goals, like buying a home or saving for early retirement.


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