Nearly half of Americans who have owned credit cards lent them out to other people. For a third of them, it didn’t end well.
In our survey of 2,253 U.S. adults, 49 percent who have ever owned a credit card admitted to lending their cards to spouses, children, friends, co-workers or other people to make a purchase. But 35 percent of those selfless cardholders saw negative consequences, including overspending by the other person (19 percent), not getting repaid for the debt (14 percent) and having the card lost, stolen or never returned (10 percent).
An extrapolation based on the U.S. adult population reveals 36 million people have suffered whiplash after letting someone else take their credit cards for a spin.
“My guess is that a large segment of those individuals are financial enablers,” said Brad Klontz, founder of the Financial Psychology Institute. “In an attempt to help somebody, they either loan them money or support them in some way that ends up hurting themselves. And it’s probably feeding some financial dependence or money disorder on the other side.”
Here’s what else our survey on lending out credit cards found:
- We trust family the most with our cards… Thirty percent of respondents who have owned credit cards lent them to their spouses and partners, and 21 percent shared their cards with their children. Only 9 percent lent cards to friends, and 4 percent let co-workers borrow their cards.
- …if we trust them at all. However, 39 percent of all cardholders would never let an immediate family member borrow a credit card.
- Most card sharers are generous with their credit. Forty-nine percent of respondents who have owned credit cards said they’d be amenable to letting an immediate family member ring up $100 or more on their cards. Eleven percent said they’d be OK with a spend of more than $1,000.
- Need a credit card? Befriend a millennial. Respondents aged 18-37 were significantly more likely than older adults to lend credit cards to their friends. But they were also the most likely group to say cards they lent to other people were lost or stolen.
- A master’s in mutual trust. Respondents with post-graduate degrees were significantly more likely to say nothing bad happened when they let others borrow their credit cards.
The online survey of 2,253 U.S. adults was conducted Feb. 14-15, 2018. See survey methodology
An easy way to help someone – and hurt yourself
If you lend your credit card to another person, there’s a one-in-three chance you’ll end up losing money or the card itself. But despite the potential risks, lending a card is an easy and convenient way to help someone you care about, whether it’s your spouse, an immediate family member or even a close friend. And for many of us, it’s hard to imagine a person you love and trust stealing your card or sticking you with a debt.
“Money means a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Jeffrey Shinal, a financial therapist and psychotherapist. “It can be treated as a way to show love, affection and connection to people, and one of the easiest ways to show care or love to others is by providing for them.”
Card sharing is common – even though issuers technically don’t allow it – and there are any number of scenarios in which it’s harmless. You may hand over your card to your significant other for a quick grocery shopping trip while you’re tied up with other stuff. Perhaps you’re planning a vacation with a good friend who doesn’t own a credit card, and you agree to let him purchase a plane ticket online with your card as long as he immediately pays you back.
Slight overspending by your spouse or partner is usually no big deal. And you might even let your friend slide if he is a little late repaying you for that plane ticket because he spent all his money on room service and booze during the vacation.
But a borrowed credit card can also be used like a blank check, or it can be mishandled and end up getting lost or stolen.
“If you’re asking somebody to lend you a credit card… you’re probably in a desperate place,” said Terrence Shulman, founder of the Shulman Institute for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding. “When people are desperate, they often bite off more than they can chew. They might promise to pay things back in a while, but it’s not realistic.”
Letting someone use your card for their everyday expenses can also foster unhealthy financial dependence. If you let a loved one such as an adult child, a parent or a sibling use your card on an open-ended basis, it may never occur to them to pay you back or even return the card.
Klontz noted that when people become psychologically dependent on money they don’t earn, it often results in a lack of motivation and compassion, and it can even create resentment between both parties.
“Financial enablers will very often resent the people they’re giving money to, even though it’s coming out of the goodness of their hearts,” Klontz said.
A shared card can be a weapon in a troubled relationship
Sharing a credit card with your significant other may seem like the safest bet of all, but it can become a point of contention if the relationship falls apart. In our survey, divorcees were significantly more likely than married people to say that the people they lent their cards to didn’t pay them back.
Unlike a card from a jointly held account, any debt incurred on a borrowed card is the legal responsibility of the card owner. So, if one spouse spends freely on a card borrowed from the other during the marriage, the latter is still liable for repaying any debt that remains after divorce. A free-spending spouse may refuse to pay back what’s owed on such a card after the relationship ends, particularly if the card owner ended the relationship or was abusive or unfaithful.
Financial therapy expert Debra Kaplan said credit cards are often used for clandestine spending by the cheater in a marriage riven by infidelity. But credit cards also can be used by the scorned lover for “revenge spending” – a debt not likely to be repaid to the two-timer.
“The other individual in the relationship starts spending money as a way to level the powerlessness, or as retribution or retaliation,” Kaplan said.
Establish clear rules for borrowing your card
If you want to help someone financially without putting your card and your credit at risk, there are other options. You could just loan him cash or help him get a prepaid card.
If you must lend someone your credit card, set firm ground rules about how it will be used and when it will be returned.
Set a maximum amount that can be spent on any given item. You may also require the other person to ask your permission before making any purchases. And keep a close eye on your account activity to be sure no unauthorized spending is taking place.
“If you’re really worried, you could actually just go with them wherever they’re going to make the purchase,” Klontz said.
Shinal said that if the other person pushes back or bristles at the idea of adhering to your restrictions, you should rescind the offer.
“You want to feel confident in the character of the other person and in the strength of your relationship, so that when you set ground rules you know they will be respected,” he said.
CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct interviews with 2,253 adults living in the United States. The survey was conducted online Feb. 14-15, 2018. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic differences between the sample and the U.S. population.