Authorized user not liable for ex's card balance

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question Dear To Her Credit,
I have been very sick, and I have been battling with my ex-partner about this credit card problem now for almost a year and a half.

First, he made me an authorized user without asking my permission or even letting me know. I had Lyme disease at the time, and now I am diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. I only tell you this because my memory and cognition have changed. I did not know what an authorized user was when I saw my name on the credit card. He told me not to worry about it.

He then transferred the balance over to another card, I believe American Express, and he is telling me that I am not able to see the statements. When I go onto Capital One online in his name, all I can see is the balance. Since this card was opened and I have been paying him, I need to know what I am paying for.

As I said before I have been very sick. I am through with allowing this controlling man to get his way. Is it my legal right to see the statements, meaning what I am paying for and not just the balance?  – Trish

Answer

Dear Trish,
What are you paying for? You don’t say anything about making purchases on the card. Even though you have been sick, surely you would have some idea if you had used the card and for how much.

From a legal perspective, based on your description, your ex cannot enforce your continued payments to him. As an authorized user, you had permission to use the card, but no liability for the balance. He can’t change that after the fact.

If he transferred part of the balance to another card that is only in his name, you have no legal liability for the new card balance, either. Being able to see the credit card statements is not the real issue. It’s not your card, so he doesn’t have to show you the statements. The real issue is that it’s not your card. It doesn’t matter what the card balance is. It’s his, and he is the only one responsible for it.

From a moral or practical standpoint, things get more complicated. If you used the card for incidental living expenses, you may feel obligated to pay for those. You were partners at the time, however, and it’s common for living partners to help each other with everyday expenses without expecting to be paid back, especially when one partner is sick.

If you had made large purchases, such as furniture or jewelry, he would have more reason to expect repayment or relinquishment of some of the items you purchased. If you aren’t sure if you used the card, or for what or how much, it would certainly be reasonable for you to expect documentation from your ex to show what he expects you to pay and why.

I’m concerned about you being controlled by a person who would add you to a card without your permission, not allow you to see the statements, and expect you to make payments. I wonder what else he is capable of doing. You should order a current credit report (you can pull one for free at annualcreditreport.com), and check to see that he hasn’t opened any cards in your name, as well.

You can make sure your name has been removed from any of his accounts by sending letters by mail to each credit card company. This also would be a good time to put a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your credit file.

Having health problems or relationship problems can damage a person’s finances. Having both at one time can be devastating. I hope you can put the bad relationship behind you and that you get well soon. Better days ahead!

See related: How to remove an authorized user from a credit card account, Odds slim when suing authorized user for unpaid debt

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Updated: 11-24-2017