TPG reader credit card question: How do I consolidate my card strategy with my spouse?

Feb 15, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

A new year often means people are beginning to work toward new financial goals and resolutions. And that means taking a hard look at your current spending and what cards you’re using to pay for those expenses. Which cards are worth keeping for the long term? Where are the gaps in your earning strategy? Are there any cards you should downgrade or cancel?

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Today’s reader question asks about how to best consolidate card strategies with a spouse.

Dear TPG,

Thank you so much for creating and maintaining the TPG site. It has been very helpful to me! I have learned a lot since two years ago.

My wife and I have a couple of questions for you. Your instructions will be highly appreciated:

My wife and I both (each of us separately) have a few cobranded hotel and airline credit cards (Chase United, Citi AA, Amex Delta; Chase Marriott, Chase Hyatt, Amex Hilton Aspire).

Since we don’t travel much the past few months, we are thinking about reorganizing our cards. We have two options in mind:

1) Since the above cards all carry an annual fee, some pretty high, one of us will downgrade his/her card to a no-annual-fee card, the other keeping her/his so that one of us can still enjoy the perks. None of us needs to close a card.

2) One of us (Party A) keeps his/her annual-fee card and add the other (Party B) as an authorized user. Party B will wait until she/he receives the additional card to close her/his own credit card. In this case, Party B will need to close a card, but she/he may be able to enjoy the welcome package again in the future when applying for the same card that is closed (if it is not an Amex card).

We would really like to hear your suggestions regarding the above two options. Your response will be highly appreciated.

Rick C

It makes a lot of sense to consider which cards are redundant for both spouses to have in order to save money collectively on annual fees. This question can be broken down into two decisions: when to cancel or downgrade, and when to make your partner an authorized user.

Canceling versus downgrading

In general, I’m an advocate for keeping card accounts open whenever possible. The age of your accounts and credit utilization are both factors that make up your credit score, and canceling a card means potentially shortening your average age of accounts while raising your credit utilization.

Related: Credit utilization ratio: What is it and how it affects your credit score

With this in mind, I would recommend that one spouse downgrade to a no-annual-fee version of a card when possible.

The one exception to this is American Express cards. Because you only have one opportunity to earn a welcome offer per lifetime on each card, downgrading would mean forfeiting a bonus on the card to which change products.

For example, if Rick or his wife were to downgrade their Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card to the no-annual-fee (see rates and fees) Hilton Honors American Express Card, they won’t earn the bonus on that card upon downgrading — and they won’t ever be eligible for the sign-up offer in the future, either. 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.

In this situation, I’d recommend requesting to downgrade your non-Amex cards whenever possible to keep the accounts open, and canceling Amex cards if you ever plan to take advantage of those welcome offers in the future.

Should you add your spouse as an authorized user?

The next decision is whether to add a spouse as an authorized user once they downgrade or cancel a card.

If you’re traveling together on the same reservation more often than not, having one spouse with a card account should suffice to get both of you most benefits. Lounge access across premium credit cards almost always includes at least one guest, and the first checked bag free benefit often includes a certain number of people on the same reservation. Elite status perks such as late checkout or room upgrades would be enjoyed by both if you’re staying in the same room, and so on.

If you’re traveling with your spouse more often than not, you may not need authorized user status to benefit from the perks. (Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

But even when you aren’t traveling together, keep in mind that not all cards offer full reciprocal benefits for authorized users.

For example, the United Club Infinite Card only offers lounge access to the primary cardholder, not authorized users. Additionally, automatic elite status on the Hilton Aspire is only attached to the primary account holder’s Hilton account and not the actual card. Benefits such as free checked bags and annual statement credits also typically only apply to the primary cardholder.

So, unless Rick and his wife are frequently traveling separately, adding the other as an authorized user may cost more trouble (and authorized user fees) than it’s worth.

Related: Best cards for authorized users 

Bottom line

You should reevaluate your spending habits and credit card needs frequently to make sure you’re poised to hit your redemption goals while minimizing the fees you’re paying. For spouses who travel together often, that may mean looking at whether having duplicate cards is truly necessary, like in Rick’s case.

Generally speaking, it’s better to downgrade than cancel because you can keep your account history and credit utilization ratio (with some exceptions such as with Amex cards). When it comes to deciding whether to add a spouse as an authorized user, it really depends on what benefits the specific card offers authorized users and whether or not your spouse would realistically use the card and its benefits enough to justify any fees involved.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors card, please click here 

Photo by Hello World/Getty Images.

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