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After a breakup, who's responsible for card debt?

Unfortunately, authorized users legally aren't required to pay

By Todd Ossenfort

The Credit Guy
'The Credit Guy,' columnist Todd Ossenfort
The Credit Guy, Todd Ossenfort, is a credit expert and answers readers' questions about credit, counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
If an authorized user with no paperwork on file with the credit card company uses the card for authorized purchases, and then the couple breaks up -- is the authorized user legally responsible for purchases made with that card? -- John

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear John,
Only an owner of the account can be held legally responsible for charges. By definition, an authorized user is just that, someone authorized to make purchases on the account. The authorized user is not an owner of the account and is not legally responsible for anything charged to the account.

At the request of the account owner, authorized users are typically issued a card in their own name with a slightly different account number. The charges made with the authorized user's card are the responsibility of the card account owner. Taking care with who an account owner adds as an authorized user is a fairly obvious fact, but one I believe should be pointed out nonetheless.

The bad news is that if you make an unwise choice in naming an authorized user, it could end up costing you in unwanted debt on your account. The good news is that as the account owner, you can cancel the authorized user's privileges on your account at any time.

I'm not sure if this question is hypothetical or not, but just in case it isn't, let me give you some additional, although admittedly not asked for, advice.

As the owner of the account and one-half of a broken-up couple, you could make a pleasant and nonconfrontational request of your ex to pay for the charges he or she made on the card. This falls under the category of, "It doesn't hurt to ask." My guess is the request will be politely, or maybe not so politely, declined. Should that be the case, chalk up the money you are out as a life lesson, choose your authorized users more carefully in the future and move on. Oh, and cancel the ex's card if you have not already done so.

As the authorized user and one-half of a broken-up couple, you could decide that even though you are not legally responsible for the charges made as an authorized user, you would feel better paying for them. You don't even have to contact your ex to do so. Just send a check to your ex made out to the creditor and you could even include the card with the payment. Or, if you don't care that your ex will be paying for items you purchased, know that you are not legally responsible and move on. One caveat, if for some reason your ex does not cancel you as an authorized user and becomes delinquent on that account, it may negatively impact your credit. If the account is listed on your credit report, you may want to dispute it -- telling the reporting  credit bureaus credit bureaus that it's not your account -- and see if it will be removed.

Take care of your credit!

See related: Authorized users aren't liable for card debt, Credit card authorized users, join account holders differ, Daughter's card abuse hurts mom as authorized user

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Published: September 27, 2010


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