Expert Q&A

Why families shouldn’t share credit accounts


An adult daughter who shared a credit card with her mother wonders if she is liable for the $10,000 balance on the account

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Question for the expert

Dear Credit Guy,
Many, many years ago, my mother requested an extra card on her bank card account so that I could renovate a house for my grandmother. We live 1,500 miles apart, and this seemed like a logical answer. Now, 20 years later, she has $10,000 in debt on the card and my name appears as co-owner, so to speak. Except for the three or four months I was working on the house, I have never had a copy of the card, nor did I agree to this arrangement. I don’t feel I should be held responsible for debt I did not incur on a card I did not approve or apply for. Is there any resolution for this problem? — Gayle

Answer for the expert

Dear Gayle,
The first thing you need to do is to determine your level of responsibility for this account. From what you have written, it sounds as if your mother requested that you be added as an authorized user on her existing account. Unless you jointly applied for the account with her when the account was originally opened, most credit issuers will not add persons to an existing account as a responsible party or joint owner. That would require applying for a new joint account and signing a cardholder agreement. So, if that did not happen, it is likely that you are only an authorized user on the account.

I’m not sure what you are viewing that you believe shows you as a “co-owner,” so it’s smart to double-check how your name is listed on the account. To do this, I recommend that you review your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free copy from each bureau once every year (in some states you are entitled to extra free copies each year) and can order copies of your reports at Once you receive your reports, check the account listings for your mother’s account. Each of the accounts listed on your report will be identified as individual account, joint account, authorized user, etc.

If my suspicions are correct, and you are listed as an authorized user on the account, you are not financially responsible for any balance due on the account, but your credit can still be negatively affected if the account is not in good standing. My recommendation would be to request that you are removed as an authorized user, regardless of the account standing. In most cases, the authorized user can make the request from the card issuer to be removed. Once your name is removed from the account, it will no longer be reported to the credit bureaus.

Should you be listed as a joint owner on the account on your credit reports, you will need to contact the card issuer and request that they send you a copy of the cardholder agreement with your signature. If you are indeed a joint owner on the account, you can be held financially responsible for any charges on the card, even if you did no make any of them.

It might be time to have a frank discussion with your mother about the account and your role on it.

Handle your credit with care!

See related:Authorized users aren’t liable for card debt, Authorized user or joint account holder?, Piggybacking can backfire

Meet’s reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,’s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.




Editorial Disclaimer

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.

What’s up next?

In Expert Q&A

Why co-signing on a card for an ex is a mistake

An elderly divorcee co-signed on a credit card to help her ex-husband. Then he died, leaving her to deal with the collection calls and debt

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more