Authorized user must close deceased's account and move on

Question for the expert

Dear Credit Wise,
I'm a recent widow. My husband had a credit card in his name with me as authorized user. I am continuing to use it and pay bills. My credit is good. If I change it to my name or cancel it will it affect our credit score? -- Nancy

Answer for the expert

Dear Nancy,
Please accept my condolences for your loss. I know that this is a time of transition for you and can understand why you might continue to use a credit card that you have been accustomed to using.

From what you have said, you have been using the card responsibly and I commend you for that. But the time has come for you to stop using the card and notify the creditor that your husband is deceased. With your husband gone, your rights as an authorized user have ended.

When you notify the creditor you should know that they will shut off access to credit. If you have any recurring charges being billed to the card, you will need to make other arrangements to pay those bills now because they will be refused once you have made the call.

The creditor may offer you a card in your name only. At this point it is best for you to get a card in your own name anyway. You mention "our credit score" in your question. Credit scores are always individual -- you and your husband did not have a common credit score. If, as you say, your credit is good and you can show that you have the ability to pay, you should be able to qualify for a card in your own name. By doing so, you will bolster and build your own credit file.

I have talked several times in my column about not closing old accounts due the effect closing accounts can have on a credit score. However, since you are only an authorized user on this credit card, closing the card out should not affect your score.

You can ask the creditor about changing the card to your name but it will probably be much simpler to open a new account in your name. If you feel that this card offers you the best benefits, by all means stay with this creditor. But do your homework and be sure that you are getting a card that fits your needs and offers you the best deal. Many cards today offer cash-back rewards that are very attractive, particularly if you pay your balances in full each month. But interest rates do still matter in case you have to carry a balance for a short time.

As you probably know, my advice is always to pay your balances in full each month as this is what is best for you financially and  for your credit score. Sometimes, though, unexpected expenses can arise that require the use of credit that you may not be able to pay in full at the end of the month.  If you know you will not be able to pay your balance in full, be certain that what you are experiencing is a true emergency. Whenever a balance is carried you need to have a plan for paying off that balance as soon as you can.

Be wise with your credit!

See related: Authorized users can sometimes gain late cardholder's rewards, Son uses dad's card after he dies, Being financially prepared for the death of a spouse

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Updated: 01-21-2019