Two-player mode: Credit card strategies for couples

Feb 12, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the latest information.

When you travel as a couple, simple math shows you’ll need more points and miles than when traveling solo. After all, even if the lodging costs are the same, you’ll still need double the airline miles to get there. Luckily, couples have twice the opportunity to earn rewards from travel credit cards.

However, you may have questions regarding how to manage and maximize credit cards as a couple. So today I’ll discuss several credit card strategies you and your partner can use to leverage your credit and your two-player relationship.

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In This Post

How credit cards work for couples

Tensed multi-ethnic couple reading bills at home. (Photo by Portra/Getty)
Figuring out how to maximize credit cards as a couple takes some planning. (Photo by Portra/Getty Images)

When deciding whether to approve you for a card, credit card issuers don’t care whether you’re married. Specifically, as long as you’re an adult, you can apply for a credit card regardless of whether your spouse or partner has the same card. And you’ll be approved or denied for a card based on your credit score and history, which is independent of your partner’s credit score and history.

Related: How to check your credit score for absolutely free

However, you can include all household income that you have a reasonable expectation of access to when applying for a new card. So if you and your partner manage your finances jointly, you may be able to include their income on your credit card application.

Primary account holders can make their partner (or anyone else) an authorized user on their account. Authorized users can make purchases on the account, but they generally can’t fully manage the account, make changes to the account or redeem rewards.

If one person in a couple has a higher credit score than the other, the person with the higher credit score may have more success when applying for new cards. As such, the person with the higher credit score may want to apply for cards and then add the person with the lower credit score to the account as an authorized user. Doing so may, in turn, boost the authorized user’s credit score.

However, you’ll only want to add your partner as an authorized user if you trust them to use credit responsibly. After all, authorized users aren’t responsible for repayment. So you’ll be on the hook for charges made by any authorized users on your account. It’s also possible that having an authorized user card will give you temporary trouble with Chase 5/24 rules that have to do with how many accounts you’ve opened in the last two years, but if you get a closer inspection that should be manually waived if that’s the account that put you over five new ones in the last 24 months.

Related: It’s not me, it’s you: How to part ways with a credit card authorized user

Best credit card strategies for couples to maximize rewards

Kyoto Japan Honeymoon Destinations 2018. (Photo by George Clerk via Getty Images)
Make your dream trip a reality with credit card rewards. (Photo by George Clerk/Getty Images)

Maximizing rewards will look different for each couple. After all, each couple has its own travel goals, credit scores and financial management strategies. But, in this section, I’ll answer some common questions asked by couples about maximizing credit card rewards.

Should we each sign up for the same card?

You’ll want to consider the following aspects when deciding whether you and your partner should sign up for the same card:

  • Do you manage your finances jointly or separately? Couples who manage their finances separately will generally want separate credit card accounts. However, even if you manage your finances separately, you may want to have one or two shared credit card accounts for shared expenses. Likewise, even if you generally manage your finances jointly, you and your partner may each want to have one card account that you don’t manage together if you enjoy making surprise purchases for each other.
  • Is the sign-up bonus exceptional? Some offers remain pretty consistent for years on end. But limited-time offers may disappear as soon as you leave the page. For example, suppose you and your partner both checked the CardMatch Tool and found targeted 100,000-point offers for The Platinum Card® from American Express. In this case, you may both want to apply if you can each reach the minimum spending requirements to obtain the bonus. After all, CardMatch offers are only available for a limited time and can change at any time.
  • Can the cardholder benefits be shared? Many of the best rewards credit cards offer valuable perks. For these cards, you should consider whether you and your partner can share the benefits. For example, some airline credit cards offer a checked baggage benefit or lounge benefit. But in some cases, these benefits only apply to the primary cardholder.
  • Are you mainly interested in the bonus categories? If so, you may want to add your partner as an authorized user. Or, if there’s a fee to add an authorized user, you may want to load their card in your mobile wallet and tap to pay whenever possible.
  • Is it better to add an authorized user or apply for a second card? Some cards allow you to add authorized users for free, while others charge a fee. And some cards extend most of the primary cardholder’s benefits to authorized users, while others don’t offer many benefits to authorized users. For example, many couples have one primary Amex Platinum card in the family and then the spouse (and potentially parents, kids, etc.) have an authorized user card that confers many of the same perks but only costs $175 a year for up to three users, instead of the full $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) all over again.

Related: 10 easiest credit card sign-up bonuses to earn

If you are only applying for one card, who should apply?

If only one person in the couple is going to open a new card account, it makes sense to consider who is more likely to use the card’s benefits exclusively. For example, if you travel without your partner more than they travel without you, you’ll want to be the one that opens most of the hotel and airline cards. This way, you can use the benefits when you travel solo. Likewise, if you are loyal to different airlines or hotels than your partner, this will dictate which cards you open.

You may also want to balance out your new applications. First, balancing out your new applications will allow you to build your credit history at a similar pace. And second, doing so will decrease the chances that an issuer declines you for a new card due to too many recent applications. You’ll also want to consider whether either of you is close to or over Chase’s 5/24 rule when planning out new applications. In fact, starting with the Chase cards you really want isn’t a bad strategy.

Related: How does applying for a new credit card affect my credit score?

How can we mix cards to maximize our earnings?

When signing up for a new card, you’ll want to consider four main things:

  • How will we use this card’s sign-up bonus?
  • How will this card improve our earning rates?
  • Does this card have any notable benefits that will improve how we travel?
  • Can we easily hit the spending requirement to trigger the full bonus?

By considering these three aspects when applying for new cards, you can create a mix of cards between you and your partner. This is true even if you’re not jointly managing your finances, although you may miss out on maximizing some earnings if your partner holds the card with the best earnings for a particular purchase that you want to make.

In couples where one person travels more than the other, it may make sense for the traveler to focus on travel rewards cards and the less-frequent traveler to focus on cash-back cards. If one person in the couple doesn’t want to remember the best card to use for each purchase, it might be best for that person to apply for and use one of the best cards for everyday spending.

Related: How to assess and build your credit card portfolio

Best joint credit cards for couples

Young hipster male and female couple home eating pizza with laptop. (Photo by Katie_Martynova/Getty Images)
Looking for a card to share? (Photo by Katie_Martynova/Getty Images)

Some banks will offer joint credit card accounts, which are accounts for which you both apply together and are jointly responsible. But joint accounts are relatively rare and joint credit cards may not be the best idea.

So, let’s consider the more common situation in which one person opens an account and then adds their partner as an authorized user. There’s no absolute best card for authorized users since “best” will depend on your specific situation. But here are four of my favorites:

Of course, depending on your situation and preferences, adding your partner as an authorized user on a different card may be better. And applying for a joint account may be preferable for some couples.

Related: Reader credit card question: What are the best luxury cards based on annual fee and authorized user fees?

Frequently asked questions

You may have additional questions about credit card strategies for couples. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions.

How to determine the right accounts for your relationship?

If you’re in a committed relationship, you may commingle finances. As you decide what new card or cards to add to your wallets and whether to add each other as authorized users on some of your cards, be sure to consider the points discussed above to create a good mix of cards. In particular, make sure you’re (1) maximizing your earnings on most purchases and (2) working toward obtaining the right points, miles or other rewards to reach your goals.

Related: Savvy rewards travelers focus on transferable points for the most flexibility

How to use joint accounts responsibly?

As mentioned above, many banks don’t offer joint credit card accounts and joint credit cards may be a bad idea. You should weigh the pros and cons of having a joint account versus simply adding each other as authorized users on select accounts.

But if you want a joint account, be sure that your partner is on the same page financially. Being on the same page is essential since you’ll both be fully responsible for any charges made on the account and you’ll both always have access to the full credit line. Monitor the account closely and consider closing the account if your partner is irresponsible or if a separation occurs.

Related: TPG’s 10 commandments of rewards credit cards

When should couples add each other as authorized users?

If you trust your partner to make financially responsible decisions, then you may want to add him or her as an authorized user on at least some of your cards that don’t charge any additional fees for authorized users. Even if you manage your finances separately, it can be useful to have one or two accounts for shared expenses. However, remember that you’ll be responsible for any charges made by an authorized user on your account. It also may not be necessary or beneficial to be each other’s authorized user on every single account, so only add each other because of a specific reason, not as an automatic process.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

In some cases, it can make sense to pay an authorized user annual fee. For example, I’m an additional cardholder on my husband’s Amex Platinum, even though the card carries a yearly fee of $175 for up to three additional Platinum cardholders (see rates and fees). We believe the expense is well justified by the elite-like benefits, including Centurion Lounge access and hotel elite status, provided to additional cardholders.

Related: What’s the best way to share lounge access with my spouse or family member?

Is it better to have individual accounts?

If you manage your finances separately or have different financial priorities than your partner, you’ll want to maintain individual accounts. Even if you manage your finances together, each partner should have several accounts on which they’re the primary cardholder. After all, having your own accounts will allow you to build your credit history and snag welcome offers on new cards.

Related:  The five best credit cards for young adults

Tips for managing cards as a couple

A happy young couple relaxing together and making some online purchases. (Photo by Georgijevic/Getty Images)
Whether you manage your finances together or not, it pays to be organized and have a system. (Photo by Georgijevic/Getty Images)

Here are some final tips for managing cards successfully as a couple.

Managing your partner’s account

If one person in the couple manages accounts for both individuals in the couple, they may face some difficulty. After all, only the primary account holder can make changes to an account. You can use the secure messaging feature for most simple inquiries and requests. But your partner will need to call the bank in some situations and has to be comfortable sharing their log-in information. For example, the primary cardholder usually must call to report fraudulent transactions, inquire about retention offers or report a lost card.

Related: Reader mistake story — Forgetting to manage your family’s accounts

Keeping things simple

Even if you have cards for every possible use, you likely won’t carry all of your cards daily. For example, your physical wallet may typically contain a card for groceries, a card for restaurants, a gas card and a card for everything else.

Before leaving on a trip, you’ll want to remove cards with foreign transaction fees (when traveling overseas) and add travel-related cards. For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a great card to carry if you’re going to stay at a Hilton property and use the Hilton Aspire’s annual resort credit.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The one credit card TPG staffers can’t live without

Organization

Maintaining a spreadsheet or utilizing a website or app that tracks all of your cards, application dates and other important information is potentially a good idea. If you or your partner commonly forget which card to use for particular expenses, placing sticky notes on each card may reduce confusion. (And stay tuned for a TPG app coming in 2021!) You may also find it useful to have a money management app. My husband and I use Quicken to track our finances, but there are many other popular options for keeping track of all your accounts.

Related: TPG reader credit card question: How many credit cards should I have?

Bottom line

Rewards credit cards can provide significant value. And, especially if you and your partner want to travel together, coordinating your travel rewards card strategy is essential. For example, you might decide you will go all-in on collecting American Express Membership Rewards points while your partner gets the Chase Trifecta to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Or you might want to focus on cash-back rewards while your partner collects Marriott Bonvoy points.

Likewise, you may find it useful to each sign up for a hotel credit card with an annual free night. And, if you apply at the same time, you can coordinate your award night expiration dates. In short, there are many aspects to consider. But having a rewards plan and understanding how to use credit responsibly are reasonable first steps.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.

Additional reporting by Jason Steele.

Featured photo by Steve Smith/Getty Images.

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