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Authorized user or joint account holder?

Summary

There are major differences between an authorized user and joint account holder for credit card accounts. One is liable for unpaid balances and the other is not.

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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

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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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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