Why joint credit cards are a bad idea

Mar 28, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information.


Joint credit cards are like pay phones, CD players and incandescent light bulbs — they are slowly becoming things of the past.

Still, now and then, you may come across a credit card offer that allows you to include a joint account holder on your application — but is that a good idea?

It is usually not wise to co-sign with another person when you open a credit card account, especially since the option to add them as an authorized user is available. Keep reading for a breakdown of why joint credit cards are probably a bad idea.

Related: Credit cards with the greatest value for authorized users

In This Post

The difference between joint account holders and authorized users

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a credit card with someone you love and trust. In fact, sharing your account can boost your rewards-earning potential and encourage financial transparency between you and your spouse. Sharing a credit card can also be a smart way to help a child or loved one establish credit.

Related: One card for every year I’ve been alive: My journey from college student to points pro

If you want to share a credit card, there are two ways to do it. You can open a joint account or you can add an authorized user to your existing credit card.

Here’s a look at some of the similarities and differences between joint credit cards and authorized-user status, along with some of the risks and rewards of each type.

Similarities

  • Both joint account holders and authorized users can help you accrue rewards faster and hit spending thresholds sooner.
  • With joint accounts and authorized-user cards, any rewards earned are typically stored in one place. This makes your rewards easier to manage.
  • Primary account holders are responsible for charges made by both joint account holders and authorized users. For this reason, it’s important to only share a credit card with someone you fully trust.
  • Joint cards and authorized user status could help your loved one build credit. A well-managed account might even improve the other user’s credit scores (provided the accounts shows up on his/her credit reports).

Related: Will authorized user status help you build credit?

Differences

  • Some card issuers don’t report account history to the credit bureaus for authorized users. This can be problematic if you’re sharing a card because you want to help someone build credit.
  • The liability for charges is different on joint credit cards. Both cardholders are fully responsible for any charges made on the account.
  • Some card issuers allow you to add spending limits for authorized users. Joint cardholders always have access to the full credit line. This is an important distinction if you want to limit your risk on a shared credit card.
  • If an authorized user wants to be removed from an account, he/she can usually call the card issuer and ask to be taken off. The account is generally removed from the authorized user’s credit reports at that time (if it was added in the first place). A joint account holder can’t be removed from a card but can only close the account.
Adding your children as authorized users to your credit cards will help them build a credit history and will (hopefully) lead to better credit scores as they transition to adulthood. (Photo by Maskot / Getty Images)
Adding your children as authorized users to your credit card is a good way to help them build credit. (Photo by Maskot / Getty Images)

Unfortunately, closing a joint card won’t remove it from your credit report. So, if you’re hoping to remove negative credit history by closing a joint account, you’ll be out of luck until the account reaches its credit reporting expiration date (usually seven years from the date of the late payment or other negative credit histories you’re trying to escape).

Hands down, the safest way to share a credit card with someone else is to add an authorized user.

It’s also worth noting that many card issuers have stopped offering joint credit cards, making these types of accounts more difficult to find, even if you want to open one. TPG sister publication Bankrate.com found that only the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card and the PNC Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card offer joint accounts.

The information for the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature and PNC Cash Rewards Visa has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

When to close a joint credit card

(Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)

If you opened a joint credit card without fully understanding the risks, try to relax. A well-managed joint credit card might never cause you any problems (especially if you share the account with someone whose financial views you share). In fact, a well-managed joint credit card account could help both you and your co-cardholder build better credit.

It’s also not necessarily a good idea to rush out and close a joint card without cause. But because of the risks associated with joint cards, it does make sense to work toward paying the account down to zero ASAP (and to keep paying the full balance monthly moving forward).

On the other hand, there are a few reasons why closing a joint card may be in your best interest, such as:

  • You’re going through a separation or divorce from your joint account holder.
  • You co-signed for a loved one who isn’t managing the account responsibly (e.g., late payments or high credit utilization).
  • The card features a high annual fee (which you’ve tried and failed to get waived) and the benefits of the account don’t outweigh the fee.

However, even if you have a valid reason for closing a joint credit card, doing so could harm your credit scores.

How to close a joint credit card the right way

Call your bank to close your credit card. Hopefully, the customer service team won't give you too much pushback. Image courtesy of gradyreese via Getty Images.
(Photo courtesy of gradyreese via Getty Images)

The reason that closing a credit card account (joint or otherwise) can potentially damage your credit scores is because the account closure might increase your credit utilization rate.

“Credit utilization” describes how much of your available credit limits are being used on credit card accounts. When you close a card, you no longer have access to that available limit. As a result, if your credit reports show a balance on any credit card account, your utilization rate (aka balance-to-limit ratio) will increase.

Related: How important is my credit utilization ratio?

The higher your credit utilization ratio climbs, the worse it is for your credit scores. Your best bet is to pay off all of your credit card balances every month (preferably before the statement closing date so a $0 balance could be reported to the credit bureaus for the month). This payment strategy is not only good for your credit scores, but it’s good for your wallet as well.

Before you close a credit card account, you definitely should try to pay all of your other credit cards to zero if you can. This may help you avoid any ding to your credit scores from a higher utilization ratio.

Of course, sometimes closing a joint credit card can’t wait. When you’re going through a divorce, for example, you probably won’t want to be responsible for your ex’s new charges (or a vindictive ex’s intentional overspending). Closing the account can protect you from these potential problems.

Some people claim that closing a joint credit card also causes you to lose credit for the age of the account. In other words, some believe your length of credit history could be negatively affected by closing a credit card and — since that’s worth 15% of your FICO Score — it could hurt your credit scores.

Here’s the good news: Closing a credit card won’t shorten your length of credit history — at least not until the account is removed from your reports in around a decade. The account will remain on your credit reports, and FICO scoring models (used by 90% of lenders) will continue to count the card in the average age of your accounts.

Bottom line

You should think long and hard before signing up a family member, friend or loved one onto a joint account credit card. At the same time, you should also think long and hard about closing a joint credit card account (or any credit card account), even if you have a good reason for ending the financial relationship.

Related reading: What’s the difference between an authorized user and an employee card?

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson

Featured photo by Hero Images/Getty Images.

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