Authorized users don't have to pay up
They're not liable, card issuers can't sue -- but the cardholder can
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, where she manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. She writes "Credit Care," a weekly reader Q&A about debt issues, for CreditCards.com.
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Dear Credit Care,
In around 2007 to 2008, I was signed up as an authorized user on a credit card with my now ex-boyfriend. I racked up $25,000 and have paid it down to $11,000. He screwed my kids and I over really bad, to put it very mildly (I will spare you the details). I'm done paying. However, in the beginning stages of the breakup I promised him via email that I would continue to pay until paid in full. I'm done. If he sued me, could he win -- assuming he still has that email from November 2009? Mind you, the money that was racked up was due in part to his deceit. Thank you. -- Kate
As an authorized user on the credit card account, you do not have a legal liability with the card issuer to make payments on the account. Adding an authorized user on an account is offered to the account owner as a convenience. Your ex-boyfriend owns the account and is responsible for the balance on the credit card, regardless of who made purchases and how the charges accrued on the account. So, as far as the card issuer is concerned, it will seek payment from the account owner if you stop making payments, not from you, the authorized user.
However, you might want to consult with an attorney to determine your liability to your ex-boyfriend regarding the debt. If consulting an attorney would be a financial hardship, you can find a low-cost or pro bono attorney at your local legal aid office. Based on the facts that you have included, your ex-boyfriend would have to sue you to collect any money from you. Because you have already paid almost half of the total amount charged to the card, you may have a good defense for not paying anymore, depending on all the other circumstances surrounding the debt. Explain all the details to your attorney and she or he will give you advice on how to handle the situation.
Because you have stated you will stop paying on the account, I recommend that you communicate in writing with your ex-boyfriend and let him know your plans. You don't have to give any details or explain why if you don't want to. It would just be the right thing to do because if no payments are made on the credit card account, it will negatively affect his credit. Once he knows you do not plan to make any additional payments, it will be up to him if wants to begin making the payments himself and avoid damaging his credit.
Speaking of damaging credit, to avoid damage to your own, I suggest that you contact the card issuer and ask to be removed from the account as an authorized user. That way, if your ex-boyfriend does not make payments on the account, it will not be reported on your credit reports because you will no longer be associated with the account.
Handle your credit with care!
See related: When a cardholder dies in debt, authorized users are not liable, Removing an authorized user from a credit card
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, the largest nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency in the United States. She manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. You can find more money management advice on Blogging for Change and MMI's Facebook page.
Credit Care answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
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Published: October 15, 2012