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Joint Account Holder vs. Authorized User on a Credit Card: What’s the Difference?

Joint Account Holder vs. Authorized User on a Credit Card: What’s the Difference?

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Sep 03, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

You’re a parent who wants to help your children start building their credit foundation early. Or you’re a credit cardholder who wants to help a friend or family member build or rebuild their credit. How can you, as a cardmember with good credit, help?

You can do this two ways — by adding a joint account holder to your credit card account or adding an authorized user. Both of these options have advantages and disadvantages, but do you know the difference? In this post, we’ll explain the differences and offer you options on which one is best for boosting credit scores for the parties involved.

What it means to be a joint account holder on a credit card



·       Both parties agree to share responsibility for making payments and abiding by cardholder agreement terms.

·       The party with the lower credit score gets access to the higher score of the other party.

·       It’s a good way for both parties to build and maintain their credit.

·       Card activity is reported on both parties’ credit reports, which can improve credit scores over time.

·       Both parties accumulate any rewards or cash back on one card.


·       Both parties are legally responsible if the other stops making payments.

·       Delinquencies and defaults will negatively affect both account holders’ credit scores.

·       Credit card issuer may charge an additional fee for a joint account holder.


Some card issuers allow cardholders to add a joint account holder to their account. This might be a strategy couples use, for example, to make it easier to co-mingle their finances and share expenses. Be sure to add a joint account holder with caution.

When you add a joint account holder to a credit card at the application stage, the card issuer will typically ask for their personal information as well, including their Social Security number, and they will run a separate credit check for both cardholders.

“Your credit would be pulled because you share the responsibility for payment,” explained Matt Schulz, senior credit card analyst for CompareCards.

Equal responsibility means if either you or the other account holder defaults, both of your credit scores will suffer and you’ll both be on the hook for payments. Fewer banks today allow cardmembers to add a joint account holder, however, which is why you may more commonly see the option to add an authorized card user instead.

Looking at the top credit card companies, there are only three that allow joint cardholders.

  • Bank of America
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • US Bank

If you’re the one cosigning a credit card application or adding a joint account holder to your credit card, there are few benefits for you directly. Think carefully before agreeing to cosign on a line of credit.

What it means to be an authorized user on a credit card



·       Authorized user may see a credit score boost if the primary cardholder makes on-time payments and the credit issuer reports those payments on the authorized users’ credit reports as well.

·       The primary account holder has full financial responsibility for the account, which means the authorized user is off the hook for payments if the account holder defaults (however, your credit score could be negatively impacted).

·       Authorized users can be removed at any time.


·       Not all credit issuers report authorized user activity to credit bureaus. Be sure to choose an issuer that does report activity to the bureaus.

·       Missed and late payments could have lasting negative effects on the authorized user’s credit.

·       It can take a few months for the account to reflect on the authorized user’s credit report if it is reported to credit bureaus.


Adding an authorized user is a common way to give someone else access to a credit card without giving them responsibility for making payments. The main benefit for an authorized user is that the primary cardholder’s behavior might be reflected on your credit report.

An authorized user has no repayment liability on an account, but their behavior can negatively or positively impact the credit of the primary account holder. The primary cardholder gets the monthly statements and makes all the payments. If those payments are made on time, an authorized user may be able to build their own credit simply by being added to the primary cardholder’s account.

The key to benefiting as an authorized user is to make sure the credit card issuer actually reports the primary cardholder’s credit behavior to your credit bureau. Not every bank does this, so call first to ask.

To add an authorized user, you can do so on your credit card website or by calling your credit card company directly. Banks typically ask for the authorized user’s Social Security number and date of birth. Sometimes the SSN is optional.


Credit issuers that report authorized user activity to credit bureaus
Credit Issuer Reports to Bureaus How Authorized Users Are Reported
American Express Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Additional card member
Barclays Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Bank of America Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Capital One Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Chase Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Citibank Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Credit One Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user, but primary account holder bears the responsibility for the account and is reported accordingly.
Discover Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Navy Federal Credit Union Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Synchrony Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user – but only the positive information
USAA Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
US Bank Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user
Wells Fargo Equifax, Experian, TransUnion Authorized user


How to improve a poor credit score

Consider becoming a joint account holder or authorized user carefully. As always, there are other options to help your child, family member or friend establish a solid credit history early on. But before you make the decision to help, talk to the person asking for your help. Ensure that they understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of strategy.

Check to see if your credit card allows for cosigners or authorized users. Read the fine print — see how much it will cost to get that second card and what the card’s fee is for late payments. Also, check to see if there’s any penalty charged for not making minimum payments.

Once the authorized user has activity showing on their credit reports, they should actively monitor their credit using a free credit monitoring service. The primary cardholder should do the same. As the person’s credit improves, it may be time to have another conversation about removing them as a joint account holder or an authorized user so they can obtain a card under their own credit.

If you’re not comfortable being a joint account holder or adding an authorized user, guide those who ask to where they can apply for a secured credit card on their own, which may require a down payment in order to open the account.

That may not seem like the most ideal situation, but the account will be reported to the major credit bureaus, which is the ultimate goal for consumers with no credit history. Other options include retail/store credit cards, cards for those who have bad credit but don’t require a deposit and those with bad or no credit. All this can be paired with debt relief programs, which can help with tools to raise low credit scores and improve overall money management.

Disclaimer: MagnifyMoney, like ComparedCards, is a subsidiary of LendingTree.

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