Your Business Credit

Still using authorized-user card after primary holder died? What to do

Your Business Credit with Elaine Pofeldt

Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of Her book, “The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business,” was released in 2018. She writes “Your Business Credit,” a weekly column about small business and credit, for

Ask Elaine a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Your Business Credit answer archive.

I kept using an authorized-user card after the primary holder died. What should I do?

When a primary cardholder passes away, most state laws detail that authorized users can no longer use that line of credit. If you have done so and are considering negotiating with the card company, you should seek legal advice first.

At the same time, you should find a way to repay what you owe. You can get extra income from a temporary part-time job or by reviewing your budget to identify unused funds.

But, above all, your first step should be to stop using the card immediately.

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    Dear Your Business Credit,

    My “domestic partner” of six years and I were in business together. She set up two Capital One credit cards for our businesses, with me as an authorized user.

    My partner passed away three years ago. I’ve continued to use the credit cards as an authorized user after she passed. Both cards are now at maximum $5,000 each, which I am having difficulty paying since I’m working and raising our children.

    My question is this: Being that I’m only an “authorized” user and not a legal cardholder, should I disclose all this information to Capital One, and attempt to negotiate a settlement? Please help. – Clifford

    Dear Clifford,

    I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve been through. It’s very hard to stay focused on one’s finances during a time of grief, especially while juggling earning a living and raising children.

    See related:Ex-partner was authorized user; is he liable for card debt?

    Stop using authorized-user cards after primary holder dies

    Your first step should be to stop using the cards. If you can’t pay them, do not add any more to your debt.

    That’s not to mention you should stop using the card for legal reasons. State laws on handling someone’s estate vary, but when someone dies, their permission to act as an authorized user on a credit card does not extend after their death, as my colleague Sally Herigstad has discussed in her column.


    Tip: It is illegal to continue to use a deceased cardholder’s credit card. The executor who is handling the deceased’s estate should report the death to all credit card issuers. The authorized user can also contact the credit card issuer and request removal from the card.

    If the authorized user is a spouse of the deceased, and that couple lives in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin (all community property states), then that spouse may be held liable for any balances. Community property laws in those states treat authorized users as joint account holders, and joint account holders are equally responsible for debt owed on a credit card.

    Seek legal help before negotiating with card company

    Before you decide whether to approach the credit card company, I would recommend you look for a volunteer or low-cost attorney to help you best to address the matter in your state, which you did not name.

    You need to know where you stand before you try to negotiate, if you ultimately choose that option.

    To find an attorney who can help you, check out the resources the U.S. government site recommends. 

    Find a way to repay what you owe

    In the meantime, I’d suggest trying to find a way to keep paying back the money you borrowed. Is there anything you could do to bring in enough money to make at least the minimum payment, until you can get on better financial footing?

    For instance, if you run a service business, taking on even one extra project on a weekend might nudge your finances to the point where you had a little breathing room. Selling something you don’t need is another option.

    These types of activities take time, which most parents are short of. I know, because I have children myself, but you don’t have to do this forever.


    Tip: Taking on a temporary part-time job can help you earn enough extra income to pay off credit card debt, but that’s not your only option. Creating a do-it-yourself repayment plan or getting a personal loan can also help. Read “Side gig can be best debt-payoff option” to learn more.

    Review your spending to unlock repay funds

    The alternative is to try to find some short-term savings in your budget. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount – just enough to get you to where you need to be to make the minimum payment.

    • For instance, maybe, through your business, you subscribe to a few software-as-a-service products that you have semi-forgotten about and don’t use that could be discontinued.
    • Perhaps you seldom have time to watch TV and are paying a big cable bill for those shows you keep missing.
    • Sitting down with an eagle-eyed friend or family member to go over your budget can be a good way to come up with creative ideas, if you are comfortable talking about finances with someone else.

    Paying off card debt ensures keeping a strong business credit

    The reason I encourage you to do this is that as a single, self-employed parent, it’s important for you to do everything you can to preserve and build your business credit.

    Your business is your livelihood and there are very likely going to be times you will need access to credit.

    It is possible that a credit card company could report on the activity on the card, which could hurt your credit.

    Remember: You don’t have to tackle all of the debt overnight.

    Try to deal with it one month at a time, so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Your emotional well-being is important, too. Your children need you!

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