BACK

Matt About Money

Think twice before sharing credit card accounts with kids

Summary

Moms and dads, beware of making your adult kid an authorized user or joint account holder on your credit card. It’s noble to want to help, but their mistakes can clobber your credit.

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

 

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Opening Credits,
My 21-year-old son, who is a university student, was denied a credit card. I suppose he has no credit history and minimal income. Would adding my son to one of my credit cards — as a joint account holder, if possible — help him to establish credit? Or would adding him as an authorized user accomplish the same thing? Thank you — Sheryl

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Sheryl,
The quick answer is, yes, adding your son to one of your accounts can jump-start his life in the world of credit. But I don’t recommend you do it. Because your boy’s been an adult for a few years, it would be far better for all concerned for him to stand firm on his own two financial feet. That means obtaining a credit card without your generous assistance.

While being helpful to your kin is nice, allowing anyone to share your credit is overly risky. As a joint account holder, your son would be equally responsible for whatever balance is on the card. As an authorized user, he would be just a guest with charging privileges — but with no contractual obligation to pay. In both cases, though, the two of you would share the same credit history of using that particular card.

“So what?” you may think. “I trust him!”

Well, that’s great, but mistakes can — and often do — happen. For example, either one of you could max out the card, pay late or somehow let the account go into collections. If any of this happens, your credit report — and your son’s — will be equally dinged.

Mind that it’s not just credit history that suffers. Resentment also builds, causing stress on important relationships. Trust me; I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

Thankfully, there are ways for your son to get a card without having to borrow your good name. It’s not clear for which accounts your son has been denied, but there are two basic types I suggest he check out:

Student credit card: Because Junior has already had his 21st birthday, he not only gains lawful admission to campus pubs, he can also get a credit card without you having to guarantee the account. He won’t need perfect credit either — a quick look at the best student credit cards that are currently available indicates that some just require a credit score of about 620, which is in the “fair” range.

Secured credit card: If he doesn’t qualify for the student card because his income or score is too low, he can always pursue a secured credit card. I happen to adore these products because they make so much sense. To get one, your son would need to put down some funds in a security account with the financial institution. That sum of money is held as collateral and is typically is the amount of the credit line. Secured cards are usually very easy to get because the issuer assumes so little risk. If your son fails to pay as agreed and defaults, the bank or credit union can just take the collateralized funds.

Now, when your son does have a card in his name only, he’ll need to concentrate on building a really awesome credit history so he doesn’t have so much trouble the next time he wants to borrow. The two most important ways to achieve a great credit history are to repay all charges in full by the due date and never, ever miss a payment.

Sounds simple, right? Intellectually, it is, but an open line of credit can be ridiculously enticing. He’ll need to learn self control. Rounds of beers at the aforementioned drinkery are easy to put on the card, but they’re hard to repay with limited dollars.

And when you think about it, Sheryl, isn’t this reason enough to keep your plastic separate?

See related:10 ways students can build good credit, Credit reports: How do get the one that is actually free

What’s up next?

In Matt About Money

Need to pay off debt fast? Prepare to make sacrifices

A reader is in a big hurry to shed a big debt. Our expert says it can be done quickly, but it’ll won’t be easy.

Published: October 27, 2010

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: August 21st, 2019
Business
15.55%
Airline
17.49%
Cash Back
17.63%
Reward
17.49%
Student
17.69%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.