Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes “Cashing In,” a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
Dear Cashing In,
My rewards card gives me bonus points if I add an authorized user. I’m single, but would like the extra points. Could I add a friend and just have the card sent to my address and never give it to them? If I know their Social Security number, do I even need to tell them about it? — Kay
A lot of times, rewards cards have us doing things we might not otherwise do in order to earn points or miles. For instance, when you first sign up for a rewards card, you typically must spend a certain amount — usually a few thousand dollars — over a few months. When you do that, they award you a large points bonus.
Marketers have also devised plans to encourage you to shop at certain stores or online portals, or eat at certain restaurants, in order to earn extra points. They know that we are suckers for easy points, so they devise plans to entice you to spend money in certain places and not others.
Another card-company strategy in this vein is encouraging you to add an authorized user. Some cards give you extra points when you add an authorized user, or when that authorized user first uses the card. For instance, the current offer on a Chase Sapphire Preferred card ($95 annual fee, waived first year) includes 5,000 extra Ultimate Reward points if you add an authorized user and use the card in the first three months.
From the bank’s perspective, placing another card in circulation probably means more charges on the account, which translates into more money for the bank in interchange fees and potentially interest and late fees.
Not all banks allow you to add authorized users, but those that do make it easy. Some don’t even require Social Security numbers. They simply send the new card to your address.
So you could get away with it. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
It’s not right to add someone else and keep it secret from them, or to do it without the other person’s permission. An authorized user is somebody with his or her own card that is tied to your account. The main account holder — you — are responsible for any charges on the authorized user’s card, and any failure to pay will drag down your credit score — and theirs, too. As the Chase agreement correctly notes, “For the authorized user, this account will be reported to the credit reporting agencies as an authorized user’s account. This could potentially impact the authorized user’s credit score.”
You would be taking someone else’s credit in your hands, and any late payments or other credit missteps, for any reason, would damage their credit. The risk is not worth a few bonus points. Just imagine yourself explaining to a close friend or relative how you damaged their credit because you wanted some points.
Therefore, if you go this route, you shouldn’t make just anybody an authorized user on your account, and you shouldn’t keep it a secret. Make sure it is somebody you trust. If you are just doing it for the points, the best approach might be to find a close friend or relative and explain to that person what you are doing and why. But then hang onto the card yourself, or cut it up after you meet the requirements for bonus points.
As with any offer for bonus reward points, make sure you understand the full details and the pros and cons before taking action. Adding an authorized user is usually a simple way to earn extra points, but be sure to know about potential pitfalls, for yourself and the other person, before going for it.
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