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Keeping Score

Should I add my thin-credit-file spouse as a joint owner on my card account?

Adding him as an authorized user or getting his own card would be better score-building strategies

Summary

Adding your husband as an authorized user to your well-managed card account is a more efficient credit-building strategy than making him a joint account owner. Better yet, he could open his own card account and improve his score more quickly.

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Dear Keeping Score,

I recently married and my husband was divorced for 30 years, has paid everything in cash and does not have a credit card. I have credit cards, and my credit score is around 820. My husband’s credit score is 683. He does not owe money except to the VA for the house and usually pays by cash for his purchases.

Would it improve his credit score if I would add him as a joint owner? He currently has a VA loan on the house, which he purchased three years ago. – Diane 

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Steve a question.

Dear Diane,

Congratulations on your marriage, and on your credit score! You enjoy a top-tier score, which I’m sure you have worked hard to establish.

You are correct in thinking your husband’s score would benefit from being added to your accounts.

Your husband suffers from what is known in the credit scoring world as a “thin file.” The credit scoring elves simply don’t have enough information on which to base a higher score and so, lacking a deep credit history, their algorithm has to operate on the side of caution and give him a 683 FICO score.

But your score, Diane, is well into the “Exceptional” range enjoyed by only about 20 percent of the U.S. population. Your desire to help your credit-averse hubby is laudable. But you may be doing him a long term disservice if you go the joint account route.

Joint owner vs. authorized user

Adding someone as a joint owner is very difficult. Lenders like having one place to go to for their payments and one score to consider in their underwriting process. The upshot of this is only a few issuers still offer joint account credit cards.

While it can be done, I think you can accomplish what you want (a higher score for him) more easily and efficiently with another strategy.

Adding him as an authorized user will share your credit experience on his credit report, but as an authorized user, it may count for less than if he had his own account. His improved score alone might not increase his chances of getting approved for additional top-tier credit offers and loan rates.

As an authorized user, he’d still have no personal record of managing his own credit accounts responsibly.

Since you are newlyweds, let me offer this analogy: In some ways, the difference between being an authorized user and an account owner is analogous to the difference between living together and getting married.

The latter gets you more points for commitment, character and reliability and, in my humble opinion, offers more opportunity for future growth. (All of you non-married readers living together, please don’t write and correct me … this is just my “humble” opinion.)

The same theory holds for credit granting. Lenders have always prized character and reliability in a borrower.

See related:  Can we erase an authorized user account that hurt my wife’s credit?

Becoming a primary account owner may be the best option

There are a number of issuers who would be happy to extend your husband credit based on his 683 score, and a cash back card may be his best option. With no credit balance outstanding he shouldn’t need a balance transfer or a lower interest rate card.

But he has shown an affinity for cash, so go ahead and check out the cash back list. He’ll be glad he did; being a primary account holder will have a much bigger impact on his credit score than being an authorized user, as long as he always pays on time and keeps his balance low.

But, as I said earlier, adding your husband as an authorized user will accomplish your goal of increasing his credit score. I think he would be better served to get a card on his own, but he may have a personal objection to that as a credit newbie.

Still, having his own card and using it responsibly would improve his score the most.

Have a chat, review the cash back card offers and let him decide. You’ve already gone the extra mile by writing to me instead of asking him to do it.

Whatever you two decide, give it a few months to see what happens with his score and then make adjustments from there.

Remember to keep track of your score!

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Published: May 15, 2019

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: June 19th, 2019
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