Clearing authorized card user account information

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
A bank credit card company reported an account delinquency on the credit profile of an authorized user. Is that allowable? If not, what is the fastest way to have that information removed from the authorized user's credit profile and reported to anyone who has seen the incorrect information? -- Terri


Dear Terri,
Yes, the credit history of a card will most likely show up on the credit reports of authorized users. In fact, many people add someone as an authorized user to their credit cards for just that reason. For example, a parent may add an older or adult child to the parent's card as an authorized user so that the child can gain instant credit history.

In the past, some companies and individuals took advantage of this fact to promote "piggybacking" services in which they would charge strangers a fee in exchange for adding them as an authorized user to an account in good standing. In 2008, however, the credit scoring formulas were tweaked to prevent strangers from benefiting by piggybacking. Since then, the formulas have limited the credit score boost of authorized users to family members.

As you have discovered, however, the effect of being added as an authorized user to someone's credit card is not always positive. As an authorized user, you are not liable for the balance on the card. You may have made few, if any, purchases on the card. You may never see the bill or have any idea if it's being paid. But if the payment history and other factors are negative, you may get stuck with a negative mark on your credit history.

The fastest way to get those negative marks back off an authorized user's credit history is to remove the user from the card. That part is easy. The authorized user or the primary account holder can just call or write to the credit card company and ask them to remove the authorized user.

In most cases, an authorized user's request to be taken off a card is effective immediately or within 24 hours. From the moment the name is off the card, the credit history no longer belongs to you. (Note that for the primary account holder, it's not so easy. Even if the account is closed, the payment history remains on that person's credit report.)

As you might suspect, the authorized user's credit history does not change overnight. Some banks report to the credit bureaus as often as every month, while others may report every few months.

If the negative marks from the card remain on the former authorized user's reports after a few months, the marks should be disputed. The credit bureaus should be contacted in writing and told that the authorized user is no longer on the account. Also, double-check with the credit card issuer that the authorized user has truly been removed from the account.

If someone has seen the authorized user's credit history with the negative marks, he can explain that he is no longer an authorized user on the card. If they need to see a credit history without the negative marks, an updated credit history should be available for them to view very soon.

There are times when being an authorized user on a credit card is a good idea. Too often, however, commingling finances doesn't turn out quite as planned. Under most circumstances, it's better to keep finances simple -- and separate from anyone except a trusted spouse.

See related: How to fix credit report damage from authorized user status, Authorized user backfire hurts son's credit score

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Updated: 01-21-2019