Authorized Users and Credit Cards: Benefits and Risks

Authorized Users and Credit Cards: Benefits and Risks

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When opening a new credit card, you'll often be asked if you want to add any authorized users to your account. Adding an authorized user can be a way to earn additional rewards or help a trusted friend or family member improve their credit, especially if they've been denied credit before.

However, adding an authorized user comes with risks. You should be sure you trust anyone who you add to your account as an authorized user — you are ultimately liable for any purchases they make with their card.

What is an authorized user on a credit card?

An authorized user is someone that you add to your account who is allowed to make purchases on your account.

Being a joint cardholder and a cosigner are other ways that you can share account access with someone, but they differ from adding an authorized user in a few key areas:

  1. When you add an authorized user, you, as the primary cardholder, are solely responsible for the debt, while both parties are responsible for the debt in the other cases.
  2. On the plus side, you can remove an authorized user from an account at any time, which you can't do as a joint cardholder or a cosigner.
  3. Also, while the other cases require a credit check, you can avoid a credit check completely when you add an authorized user.

Authorized user vs. joint credit card vs. cosigner

Authorized user
Joint cardholder
Cosigner
Who is responsible for the debt?Primary cardholderBoth cardholdersBoth the primary borrower and the cosigner
Credit check required?NoYes, for both cardholdersYes, for both the primary borrower and the cosigner
Can you remove the user?Yes, at any timeNot without the lender's permissionNot without the lender's permission

Does being an authorized user build credit?

Being an authorized user can potentially build credit, especially for teenagers or young adults who may not have had many opportunities to show responsible credit usage.

Without any history to go off, many lenders will not approve credit applications. An authorized user account gives lenders a credit history to go off of. This can open up additional opportunities for accessing credit and lower interest rates.

Note, your credit card issuer must report the account to the credit bureaus, and lenders must use a credit scoring system that incorporates authorized user accounts. There are a multitude of credit scores employed by different lenders, and some scores may not include authorized-user activity in determining your creditworthiness.

Furthermore, an authorized user will most benefit from an account with a long history of timely payments. On the other hand, an account with a lot of missed payments could actually negatively impact your score. If that happens, you can contact the credit bureaus. Some credit bureaus, like Experian, will remove delinquent authorized user accounts from your credit report, since you are not legally responsible for the debt. Experian also reports that they generally do not include negative payment history on an authorized user's account, but other credit bureaus may include this information.

Which credit card companies report authorized users?

Most of the biggest credit card issuers in the United States report additional users to all three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

In most cases, you'll need to provide the authorized user's date of birth and SSN for the credit bureaus to update their file. American Express, Bank of America and Discover, for example, require this information in order to add an authorized user. Chase, on the other hand, doesn't require an SSN to add an authorized user (though a date of birth is required).

How much can being an authorized user help your credit?

Being an authorized user on the credit card of a responsible user can make a big impact on your credit score. This is especially true if you are a young adult who doesn't have many other entries in your credit report.

Should you add your child to your credit card to build credit?

Most issuers will allow you to add a child so long as they are at least 13 years old. In fact, there is no restriction on who you can add as a user — even if that person is below the age of 18. There are currently no regulations requiring that the authorized user be a family member, even if they are a minor.

There are clear financial benefits to your child if you add them as an authorized user. As long as the card issuer reports these users to one of the three credit bureaus, then adding your child to your credit card account will make it appear on their credit file. Also, you should only add children to accounts with good payment histories — an account with a lot of late payments on record could negatively impact your child's score (for credit bureaus that include that information in their credit report).

Normally, young adults need to apply for student credit cards or credit cards for users with no credit. By adding the child to your account, a score will be generated for them, helping them qualify for better cards as well as making their loan terms more favorable. For example, having a high credit score can qualify your child for a lower APR and higher rewards.

Adding an authorized user to a credit card

The process to add an authorized user to a credit card varies by card issuer. For most issuers, you will go to the account management section to add an authorized user. You'll enter in the user's information and a card will be sent out.

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to add an authorized user to an The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express.

  1. First, you go to the Account Services menu after you have logged into your online account. Then choose Manage Other Users and Add Someone to Your Account.
manageotherusers
  1. From the Add Someone to Your Account screen, you will enter in your authorized users' information — you can add up to four users for this card.
addsomeonetoyouraccount
  1. Enter in each authorized user's name and information. For American Express, a Social Security Number is required and authorized users must be 13 years or older.
personalinformation
  1. Once you submit the form, the authorized user card(s) will be sent to the home address of the primary account holder.

How many authorized users can be on a credit card?

The number of authorized users that can be added on a credit card varies by issuer and card. For example, American Express allows four authorized users to be added to the American Express Everyday Preferred card. Chase allows up to 99 authorized users on an account for its business cards.

If no Social Security Number is linked to an authorized user, the bank may not send over payment information to the credit bureaus.

Can you add an authorized user without a Social Security Number?

Whether you can add an authorized user without a Social Security number (SSN) varies by issuer. American Express requires you to enter in a user's SSN and date of birth. You don't have to enter it when you set up an authorized user account with American Express, but you need to provide it within 60 days or the authorized user account will be canceled. Chase only requires the authorized user's first and last name, an email address and phone number.

Do authorized users get their own card?

Yes, authorized users do get their own credit card. Sometimes it will have the same credit card number and expiration date as the primary account holder's, while other times each authorized user will have a different number.

Keep in mind that depending on why you're adding authorized users to your account, you don't have to actually give the card to the authorized user. This is especially useful if you are adding one of your minor children as an authorized user.

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What can an authorized user do with your credit card?

An authorized user can make purchases on your credit card account. In some cases, they can also redeem rewards associated with the account. Many issuers, like American Express, allow you to configure what kind of access the authorized user has, or set up spending limits for particular users. Depending on your relationship with the authorized user, you might want to allow them to just view the account, make transactions, redeem rewards or even have full control of the account.

Can an authorized user take over a credit card account?

As the primary account holder, you are in control of and legally responsible for your credit card account. Any access that an authorized user has comes from permissions that you as the primary account holder grant. So while an authorized user may be able to make transactions and redeem rewards on the account, they can never take over the account and remove you as the primary account holder.

Can an authorized user redeem rewards?

Some issuers allow authorized users to both earn and redeem credit card rewards. The specifics will differ from issuer to issuer. For example, American Express allows you to set up an authorized user as a Rewards Manager, which lets them redeem Membership Rewards points on the account. This adds to the list of liabilities that come with adding a person to your account. You should be comfortable with your authorized user having access to it at all times.

Some card issuers, such as American Express, allow you to set specific permissions for your authorized user. If your issuer supports that, make sure those permissions are set in a way that you are comfortable with.

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Pros and cons of authorized users

There are both risks and benefits to adding an authorized user to your credit card account. Adding a trusted friend or family to your account as an authorized user can help them build credit, but it also may cause conflict if clear expectations are not set. You can use purchases made by an authorized user to help you meet an attractive welcome offer with a high spending threshold, but remember that you are responsible for any purchases made by your authorized users.

Pros

  • You can help trusted friends and family build credit
  • It can help you meet a spending threshold to receive an initial welcome offer
  • You can keep a rarely used card active

Cons

  • You are legally responsible for purchases made by an authorized user
  • Some cards charge an additional fee for adding an authorized user
  • It may cause conflict in the relationship if things go poorly
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Will adding an authorized user hurt my credit?

The primary account holder is responsible for all the purchases made by the authorized user. If the person added to the credit card account racks up a ton of credit card debt, it could impact the primary account holder's credit score in two ways:

  1. Their total credit utilization will go up.
  2. Any charges that are paid late or not paid at all go on the primary account holder's credit history — not that of the authorized user.

Aside from this, adding an authorized user will not have other effects on your credit score. Your credit history won't even specifically note that an authorized user was present on your account. In fact, if you are merely trying to boost your authorized user's credit score, you should consider not giving them a card to minimize the risk to your credit score.

Authorized users and travel rewards cards

Another reason to consider adding an authorized user: Many travel rewards cards allow authorized users to take part in some of the perks and rewards of having the card. The Platinum Card® from American Express charges $175 for up to three authorized user cards. With that fee, authorized users can then access the following benefits (among a plethora of others):

  • American Express Centurion lounges
  • Priority Pass™ Select membership ($429 value, enrollment required)
  • Marriott Gold status, which includes benefits like complimentary upgrades and 2 p.m. checkout (enrollment required)
  • Hilton Gold status, which includes benefits like complimentary upgrades and complimentary breakfast (enrollment required)
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre statement credit
  • Terms apply

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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Authorized user FAQs

How do you remove an authorized user from a credit card?

Typically, you remove an authorized user from a credit card in the same way that you add an authorized user. For Amex, once you log on to your online account, you can go to the account management section; there, you can add and remove any authorized users. Chase suggests that you call the 1-800 number on the back of your card.

What credit cards allow authorized users?

Most credit cards allow you to add authorized users to your account. Some credit cards allow you to add authorized users without any additional fees, while others charge a fee to add an authorized user.

Is an authorized user liable for credit card debt?

An authorized user is considered a secondary user and is not liable for any balances on the credit card. The primary cardholder is legally responsible for all purchases made by any users of the account.

Does removing an authorized user hurt their credit score?

It is possible that removing an authorized user can hurt their credit score, especially if they haven't built up much credit history. Credit score calculations are made up of several different factors, the length of credit history. Removing an authorized user from an account that has been open for a long time can decrease their average age of accounts, decreasing their credit score. If the account has a good payment history, they may also lose that record of timely payments on their credit report (for credit bureaus that report payment history on authorized user accounts) — another major factor in credit scoring.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.

Dan Miller is a freelance writer and has been covering credit cards, student loans and all things personal finance since 2014. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and 6 kids.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).