Expert Q&A

Authorized user’s bad credit won’t hurt primary cardholder


A reader with bad credit worries that becoming an authorized user on her friend’s credit card with lower her friend’s credit score.

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Question for the expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
If someone with a credit score of 750 puts me as an authorized user on their credit card — when my score is 542 — will it affect their credit negatively? — Tonianne  

Answer for the expert

Hey Tonianne,
Your poor credit history alone won’t hurt the primary cardholder’s credit score. But if you aren’t careful about how you use that shared credit card, your borrowing behavior just might.

Your friend has a credit score of 750, which suggests he or she has a history of responsible borrowing. Your low credit score, meanwhile, indicates that you have a short credit history or a record of less-than-careful borrowing. By being added to that credit card, however, it should appear on your credit report and — assuming the card has a long, positive credit history — help improve your credit score. (You’ll need to check with the card issuer about its specific policies on reporting authorized accounts.) But the opposite isn’t true: Your credit history won’t appear on your friend’s credit report. “Being added as an authorized user will not cause your credit history to be combined with that of the primary account holder, so their good credit score will not be affected” by your poor history, says Rod Griffin, credit bureau credit bureau Experian’s director of public education. “The only change will be the addition of the account to the authorized user’s credit history,” he says.

The card account’s appearance on your credit report should improve your FICO score, which is the score most popular with U.S. lenders. “To the extent the account is in good standing, has a low balance and so on, the person’s FICO score is likely to benefit,” says Jason Sprenger, FICO’s public relations manager.

That isn’t necessarily true for other scoring models. For example, VantageScore, the scoring model launched by the three credit bureaus in March 2006, didn’t always consider authorized user accounts. “VantageScore was designed without including authorized users, but lenders can choose an option to include them in the original version” of the scoring model, says VantageScore President and CEO Barrett Burns. But it has adapted: Due to requests from the market, the company began including authorized user accounts when it launched the second version of its score, known as VantageScore 2.0, in October 2010, Burns says.

Despite the possible benefits to your credit score, there are plenty of reasons for you to remain cautious with that card. That’s because by making you an authorized user, your friend will be putting his or her own finances and credit history at possible risk.

Why is that? First, as the authorized user, you aren’t legally responsible for repaying any debt accumulated on that shared account. So if you run up a bunch of expensive charges that you don’t have the cash to cover, your friend will be the one left ultimately responsible for repaying the bank.

Second, any trouble you get into with that account, such as the previously mentioned large balances, can appear on both the primary cardholder’s credit history and your own. That means any mistakes you make won’t just hurt your credit but your friend’s credit, as well.

Therefore, you should be less concerned about your past credit problems hurting your friend’s credit score — and more concerned about the impact any future flubs will have on that shared account. Otherwise, any financial mistakes could also get in the way of your friendship.

Good luck!


See related: Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ, VantageScore turns 5: What it is, and why it matters

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