Authorized user or joint account holder?

Decide carefully who gets added to your account and how

The Credit Guy columnist Todd Ossenfort
Todd Ossenfort has been chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling since 1998. He writes our weekly "The Credit Guy" column, answering reader questions about credit counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the expert

Dear Credit Guy,
What is the difference between a joint account holder and an authorized user? Is an authorized user legally liable to pay the credit card balance in the event that the principal has abandoned the debt? – Ruth

Answer for the expert

Dear Ruth,
This is a confusing topic for many people. Let's see if I can shed some light on it for you. A joint account holder for a credit card account is equally responsible for the balance of the account along with the other person named on the account and is legally liable for any amount due. An authorized user, on the other hand, is able to use the credit card account, but is not legally liable for the balance due on the account.

Joint account vs. authorized user: 2 rules

Keep two things in mind when deciding whether you want to be a joint account holder or an authorized user on someone's account or how you want to designate another person added to your account.


  1. A joint account holder is responsible for the balance, so only add someone who you know is capable and willing to pay the account if you are unable. Likewise, only agree to be a joint cardholder if you are prepared to pay the account yourself. Otherwise, both people's credit will be negatively affected if the account becomes delinquent.
  2. An authorized user has the ability to use the account for purchases just as you do, but without any of the financial responsibility. Only add someone you can trust not to abuse the privileges that come with having access to your account.


Many people add an authorized user to their accounts to try and boost the credit history of the person being added. The practice is called "piggybacking," and it is a useful tool for helping young people get a head start with credit, and to give those with poor credit a restart.

Take care of your credit!

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Updated: 04-18-2019