Speaking of Credit

Removing yourself as an authorized user


Ending the ‘piggyback’ ride from a person with great credit can impact score

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Dear Speaking of Credit,

I used my girlfriend’s credit cards to build up my credit scores as an authorized user. I want to take myself off those accounts (which are in perfect shape, like 2 percent usage). Will this drop my score significantly? I only have one unsecured card in my name. – Tom


Dear Tom,
Sometimes it can seem that raising a credit score simply by being added to someone’s credit card as an authorized user might just be too good to be true. After all, what could be easier? You don’t have to have good credit of your own or even make any payments. Once you’ve been added, that card automatically appears on your credit report and is included in your credit score as if it were your own.

Now, however, you may be finding that this piggybacking has actually been too good to be true, with the ride slowly grinding to a halt. But don’t despair. The result is not all bad news for your credit score. In fact, the loss of those authorized user cards may not hurt your score at all. Or if it does, there may not be many points lost, or for very long.

First, I’ll give you an idea of how well your score should survive the removal of your girlfriend’s cards from your credit report and score. Then we’ll see how your score might be affected by adding additional cards of your own.

Predicting how a credit score may react to a change in anyone’s credit report can be a challenge, especially when the only information available is that the soon-to-be-departed authorized user cards are “in perfect shape” with only 2 percent of their credit limits utilized (balances/credit limits). Still, we can get close.

For starters, since you have so little credit of your own, let’s be clear on what it takes to have a FICO credit score. While there are two major credit score brands used by lenders – FICO and VantageScore – the scores from FICO require a slightly higher hurdle to clear than VantageScore and are used in more than 90 percent of credit decisions. So, let’s focus on the FICO scoring formulas; the ones you’re most likely to encounter when applying for credit.

Fortunately, that credit card of yours should meet the minimum FICO scoring criteria, as long as it:

  • Was opened more than six months ago, and
  • Has been reported to the credit bureau by your card company within the past six months.

How high of a score are we talking about? Credit scoring formulas consider a number of factors that primarily evaluate how timely you pay, how much you owe and how long you’ve been using credit. Just these three scoring areas alone make up 80 percent of your score.

Therefore, we will concentrate this 80 percent and set aside such less-important factors as how many new cards you have and the different kinds of credit experience you’ve had. And by the way, since you mentioned that your card is unsecured, credit scores pay no attention to whether a card or loan is secured or unsecured.

With no way to know how your score will behave when only that one card remains on your credit report, here are some recommended strategies to achieve as high a score as possible:

  • Pay at least the minimum monthly payment on that card every month by the due date. This alone will ensure that more than a third – 35 percent, to be exact – of your score is being successfully managed.
  • Keep the card’s utilization below 10 percent. Or if you can’t reach that low percentage immediately, pay as much of the balance as you can by your monthly statement date. With low utilization, you’ll have another 30 percent of the score covered.
  • While you can control these first two strategies by paying on time, limiting your charging and paying down any existing balance, the remaining 15 percent of that 80 percent may not be so readily controllable – the card’s length of credit history. Yet, even if it has only been open a short while, simply the passage of time can add points to your score going forward.

If you are already managing your credit in these ways, your score following the removal of the authorized user cards could be close to 700 or even higher. If you haven’t been, the future can still look promising. For instance, past late payments have less impact as time goes on and prior utilization isn’t considered by most of the score models currently in use.

What if that single card just doesn’t meet your needs? Perhaps you travel on business and need more available credit to accommodate the airline tickets, hotel stays and restaurant meals that can quickly run up a balance.

Should you need another card for these or any other expenses, don’t be afraid to add one. With a low score, an unsecured card is best. Just be aware that new account openings are likely to lose you a few points initially, though those lost points can usually be regained in six months or less with on-time payments and low utilization.

As you can see, despite the loss of your girlfriend’s credit cards, life – and your credit score – goes on.

See related: 5 slow steps to rebuild bad credit

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