Tax lien won't impact shared credit card

IRS can't seize her husband's assets if he adds her as authorized user

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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
My husband wants to help me boost my credit score by adding me as an authorized user on one of his credit cards. However, I have a tax lien against me. If I am an authorized user (not a joint user) on my husband's credit card, would the IRS be able to attach anything from his credit card (or cards) in order to satisfy my lien? -- Jess


Dear Jess,
The IRS can't normally attach an unsecured credit card to satisfy a lien, because a credit card account is not an asset. When it has a balance, it's a liability.

The only feasible time the IRS may seize an unsecured credit card account may be if someone tried to shelter money from the IRS by significantly overpaying their credit card bill, thus creating a credit balance. I'm sure it's been tried!

You can also stop worrying about the IRS accessing your husband's other financial accounts if you are an authorized user on this card. You becoming an authorized user does not give the IRS access to your husband's other accounts.

Having your husband add you to his card to boost your score may be a good idea. You won't instantly have your husband's good score, but the credit history associated with this particular card will begin to appear on your credit history. That should help build your score over time, especially if you have little or no credit history of your own.

Make sure the credit history of your husband's card is excellent before you have him add you to it. If the card has a history of late payments, it will do your credit history more harm than good!

Of course, you'll want to be very judicious about using your husband's card. If the balance creeps up and it becomes difficult to keep up with the payments, you'll both have problems with your credit scores.

If you already have a credit history, but due to financial difficulties your credit score is not doing so well, adding the credit history of this good card won't be a magic elixir and instantly fix everything. It provides a boost, but you'll need to keep your bills paid, without fail, for a long time to undo any damage from late payments and other negative marks on your credit history.

Fortunately, recent activity has a greater effect on your score than older negative marks do. Here are a few tricks to keeping your credit history squeaky-clean:

  • Set up recurring payments if possible. It's so easy to overlook a credit card payment or other bill. You can avoid ever having a late bill again by setting up minimum online payments for each of your accounts. For example, you may want to have $30, if that's your typical minimum payment, sent to the credit card company every month as a recurring payment.
  • Consider paying utility bills by credit card. If available, you can arrange your water bill or other utilities to be paid by credit card.
  • Simplify your financial life. Cancel excess cards and duplicate accounts. It's a lot easier to keep track of your bills when you have fewer of them.
  • Keep your cards paid off every month. Consider using cash for more of your purchases, at least temporarily. Not only will you pay off your cards faster when you're not adding to them, but your credit score will quickly improve as you have a lower balance on your cards whenever the bank reports to the credit bureaus.
  • Set up a payment plan with the IRS to pay off your back taxes. If you're in serious trouble with the IRS, seek help from a tax professional.

If you make a concerted effort now to clean up your credit history, you may be surprised how quickly you can rebuild your credit. Having your husband add you as an authorized user to his card may be just the start you need to raise your credit score for good.

See related: Rebuilding your credit as an authorized user 

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Updated: 03-21-2019