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Are Joint Credit Card Accounts a Good Idea?

When I asked readers how you split expenses with your partner or spouse, a few responded that they maintained separate checking accounts but shared a joint credit card account for monthly purchases like groceries and utilities.

I recently started doing the same thing with my fiancee. We think, at least for the time being, it’s a good idea. But before you do the same, there are a few things you should consider when you decide to add an additional authorized user to your credit card account or become an additional user on your sweetie’s account.

Joint Credit Card Accounts Don’t Really Exist

As far as I know, you can’t actually open a joint credit card account like you can open a joint checking account. Credit cards accounts—even corporate credit cards—are almost always in one person’s name. However, most credit cards allow you to add authorized users to your account. Additional authorized users:

  • Can obtain an additional credit card in their name
  • Can make purchases on the account
  • If the primary cardholder desires, can access online account information and make payments
  • Are not linked by credit profile to the account (the card will not affect the secondary card holder’s credit report)
  • Usually, are not legally responsible for paying charges

Although all of these features makes the credit card feel like a joint account, whether two people or two hundred use it, the primary account holder is ultimately responsible for 100% of the charges on the account. Consequently, only the primary account holder’s credit will be affected by responsible (or irresponsible) use of the card.

That’s important to consider if you are thinking about giving a card to anybody…perhaps especially somebody you’re in love with. If your relationship sours, he or she can rack up a balance on the card and stick you with the bill. Unless you’re married, you will be fully responsible for paying up. If you don’t pay, the creditor will ding your credit score—not the authorized user who made the charges.

Beware Second Card Fees

Many credit cards (including most cards that do not charge annual fees) offer a limited amount of additional authorized user cards for free. If your credit card has an annual fee, however, check with the company to see if additional cards will cost extra.

Perks of Joint Credit Card Accounts

If you are married or at a point in your relationship where you think a joint credit card will work for you, it’s an easy way to track joint spending. Ideally, you’ll want to use the card only for purchases that benefit both of you such as:

  • Groceries
  • Dining out
  • Home improvements
  • Vacations

Rather than worrying about keeping track of who paid for what, you can simply use the joint credit card for every purchase and split the bill at the end of the month.

Of course, you can also increase the amount of cash back you earn on a cash back rewards card like Blue Cash Everyday Card® from American Express® or the Discover it Card. However, whether you are trying to earn cash back rewards or not, use a joint credit card account with the same caution as you would any other credit card—pay off the balance in full every month or be prepared to deal with the consequences.

What About You?

Have you added authorized users to your credit card or been an authorized user on somebody else’s card? Did it work well, or end in disaster? Do you think it’s a good idea? Let me know!

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I tried a joint credit card with my wife, and stopped because it got complicated quickly, at the end of each month we were stuck trying to figure out how the bill got to be so much and then started anylzing each others transactions blaming each other for overspending.

    I think the best way is to have a joint bill pay account for all of your mutual expenses. Each person contributes their portion plus a little extra just in case.

    My money is my money, her money is her money, the bills get paid, and we are still happily married. Take my advice, don’t do joint credit cards.

    -Dan Malone-

  2. Sarah B. says:

    A few years ago, I had been dating a guy who I thought was very responsible. One day his truck broke down, and he didn’t have the money to fix it. Well, me and my eternal faith in humanity decided that I could co-sign on a Midas credit card with him, as he couldn’t get it himself. He broke up with me a month later, and as much as I thought he would do the responsible thing, all of a sudden I go to check my credit report and find that my points have dropped from Good to Abysmal. He hadn’t paid anything on the card in over 8 months. I called the company and closed the card from further charges, but I had to threaten my ex with a lawsuit before he finally paid the balance in full. I don’t know how he did it, and I don’t care, all I know is that it’s taken me years of hard work to bring my credit score back up, and that one account continues to be a huge blemish on my report. I’ll never do that again.

    However, I DO believe that if you are in a long-term, committed relationship with someone, and you are both on the same page regarding finances etc, that it can certainly be mutually beneficial to open a joint account. Just make sure that you’re both adult enough to be able to handle it responsibly.

  3. My hubby and I combined finances and got a joint credit card while we were engaged. It has helped us manage our money more effectively. When we had many different accounts things were too confusing. Luckily Hubby and I are on the same page when it comes to spending, if not things could have been ugly.

  4. I’m just reading through this and one thing really spoke to me. Couples are using credit cards for groceries and utilities? Recurring, fixed monthly budget expenses? Yikes! I hope their marriages are better than their financial sense.

    My DH and I combined all finances and I managed all accounts (he’d never had a checking account before we were married). I was tired of maintaining a checkbook register with a bunch of his debit card reciepts missing, so switched him to a credit card.

    Long story short, that was even harder to manage so he still keeps his pre-marriage cash plan, that worked for him and keeps me happy.

    Still, the idea of putting recurring monthly expenses on revolving credit makes me very afraid. This sort of thing should be paid with real money!

    My opinion only.

    • Jessc098, what’s wrong with putting all the recurring monthly charges on the credit card? My view is that if you are unable to do that and control your spending, then you probably don’t have the ability to use a credit card wisely in the first place.

      What’s the difference how you pay your bills if you pay them off each month? We have multiple reasons for charging everything possible on the credit card:

      1. We have a rewards credit card that puts a flat 2% of all purchases in our daughter’s college fund. 2% of everything, no yearly cap. When we had our mortgage (we now own our house outright), I would have put the mortgage on the credit card had the bank allowed it without a fee. Our daughter gets between $1000 and $1200 a year for free. Multiply by 50 and you can see how much we’ll run through the credit card in a year.

      2. It’s free money. Everyone knows about how banks and companies float money. While the money is floating, you essentially have free use of it at no cost. With all the people crying about how banks and financial institutions are so bad and take advantage of them, why don’t you do the same? You have a month of interest free money. Again, if you’re going to pay it off every month anyhow, why do you care how it is being paid?

      3. The credit card statements provide you an easy way to keep track of your purchases. They get categorized (by many credit card companies) and you can easily see where your money is going.

      As far as our marriage – coming up on 17 years thank you very much. As I mentioned, we have no mortgage and own our home. networthiq.com shows our net worth at about $1.7 million – which doesn’t include the $150,000 in the daughter’s prepaid college plan, the free credit card money going to the 529, or her $40,000 trust fund.

      I say if you can’t do something as simple as use a credit card effectively between you and your spouse, I hope your marriage is better than your financial abilities.

      “Still, the idea of putting recurring monthly expenses on revolving credit makes me very afraid. This sort of thing should be paid with real money!”

      If you think that charging on a credit card is not “real money” then that’s a clear indication that maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to have one. It’s people like you who don’t understand what a credit card is or how to use it properly who are the biggest offenders.

      • Can you give me the details of your credit card that does a 2% flat rate reward on all purchases? Thanks

      • I really dislike people who brag about what they have. Even though I will never do without, I don’t flaunt what I own. You talk too much about what you have and went totally a different direction. I would suggest staying focused on what the topic was about because I don’t think anyone cares about the silver platters and the 1.7 mil your worth nor any of that useless information. The whole point was don’t use credit cards jointly unless your married so that both parties are responsible for their own choices of spending.

    • Matt Cowell says:

      What is wrong with buying groceries and poaying utilities with a credit card, imo, its a great idea. You dont have to worry about what money you have in your account and dont have to face over withdrawel fees. If i shopped with my savings account, i wouldnt spend any less as a restriction.
      MMy partner and I pay off our joint credit card weekly, 55 interest free, easy, been doing it for years!

    • rudeboyrg says:

      Jessc098 reminds me of an alcoholic who goes to other peoples’ homes and warns them to throw away the bottle of wine on their counter before it ruins their lives because the alcoholic things everybody else is one as well.

  5. Jacqueline says:

    You can have joint credit cards with two primary users.

  6. My wife and I have a joint credit card, a joint checking account, as well as our personal checking accounts that we had before we married. I am responsible for all the bills, which makes separate checking accounts much safer. I can pay bills without worrying about her spending, and she can spend without worrying about tripping me up with the bills.

    We use the join checking account for groceries and so forth. We never use credit cards except for emergencies, so the joint card has never been a problem. In fact, it really saved us this week because my wife got her wisdom teeth removed (and our dental insurance is worthless). She just charged it to the joint card and I’ll pay it off when I get paid next week.

    The joint accounts work very well for us, but I also think having our personal accounts prevents us from stepping on each other’s toes with overdraft fees.

  7. Jessc098 well said. These comments are concerning. I felt the same regarding “joint” debt and accounts in that “hey, we are married, we should have everything in both our names”. Now that I have gone through my “second” divorce, let me tell you I will forever keep my finances separate. Allowing things to become “joint” has absolutely no benefit unless you are benefitting from filing your taxes as “married filing jointly”. Being “joint” shouldn’t be done to be “nice” or cordial in the relationship. Keep it separate….you can call it survival if you wish, but it is all about self-preservation. You will see the nightmare unfold if you reach divorce, and worse yet bankruptcy. Beware!!

    • I have little sympathy for people who are unable to hold their marriage together. Why’d you get married in the first place?

      If you go in to a marriage thinking “no joint accounts because maybe we’ll get divorced”, then you’re probably setting yourself up for that inevitability.

  8. We have a joint card for household stuff. For us that’s gas, groceries, and autobills regularly and a few other things occasionally. I check in on the card a few days a month and do most of the grocery shopping (my chore). It gets paid from a joint checking account where we put 80% of our income. So far we haven’t had any problems because before we do anything that falls outside of regular we talk about it. We also have personal cards for the more frivolous stuff.

  9. When I got married, I searched and searched for an actual “joint” credit card to open, but I could not find any.. Like the author, I have only seen “individual” credit cards that allow authorized users, which is not the same as an actual joint card. So I added my wife to my credit cards as an authorized user. Because she did not have much credit history, this raised her credit score considerably.. However, I’ve been reading that sometime in the future, the method of calculating credit scores is going to be changed so that being an authorized user will no longer help your credit score. So we have opened a couple credit cards for my wife to build her own credit history. Right now, we both have our own American Express, Discover, and Mastercard. I think everyone should have their own credit card in their own name as this can definitely help your credit score, assuming you pay it in full on time every month. As to the person who disagrees with charging groceries and monthly expenses to your credit card, I have no idea why they would say that. We get cash back on all our credit card purchases. Why would anyone NOT use a credit card when they pay you to use them??? We pay all of our cards in full every month, and we don’t charge more on our cards than if we were using cash. In addition to building a credit history and getting paid cash back, credit cards also provide protections that you don’t get if you pay with cash or check.. All things considered, for any RESPONSIBLE person, there are absolutely no disadvantages and several advantages to paying with credit card instead of cash or check..

    Regarding the checking account, we have one joint checking and one joint savings account, and all of our mutual fund accounts are held jointly.. As a married couple, we are not already planning our divorce. Someone who has the attitude that separate accounts are better because they will make your divorce easier is doomed to have an unsuccessful marriage. Joint accounts have the advantage that if one person becomes unable to act, the other person still has access and control over the finances. Or, if one person dies, the surviving joint owner automatically becomes owner, without having to go through probate.

    Again, this type of arrange really only works if you have complete trust and faith in your spouse and marriage.. But if I didn’t have that trust in my spouse I wouldn’t have married in the first place.

  10. When I first moved in with my girlfriend (now fiance) we tried a similar approach. It was complicated. What’s a joint expense, what’s not. Do you split the payment equally or relative to income. I found that because I had fewer charges on my personal account (no student loans to pay…I actually probably had higher discretionary spending), I would often have to put more money into joint spending and our down-payment savings simply because I was the one who had more available, despite making slightly less. Ultimately, after about 3 or 4 months of this, it just seemed stupid and we merged all of our accounts. You have to be on the same page when it comes to priorities and responsibility in order to do this, but in terms of simplifying family finance, it does seem like the way to go.

    Re: Jessc – using a credit card for fixed monthly charges is a perfectly reasonable and rational thing to do. I haven’t paid a penny in interest, and have enjoyed thousands of dollars worth of free vacations by putting any spending item that will let me pay by cc on a card. This is what bugs me when people get up in arms about using credit cards for everything. It’s only a bad thing if you can’t pay it off. The rest of us are enjoying the good life, ultimately on the backs of those who are irresponsible.

  11. If this is the way you think about credit card usage with your partner David, you’re marriage isn’t going to last very long.

  12. My boyfriend has over 750 Fico score and mine is unfortunately at 680. He added me as an authorized user on one of his platinum cards. But I would prefer my great payment history to reflect on my Fico score. We would like to open a joint credit card to 1) help my credit score increase 2) to use for large household items (blinds, dishwasher, etc); because it’s too complicated to try to figure out who bought what at the end of each month. Where can I even find a joint credit card???? I have another credit card on my own, but the limit is less than desirable.

    Please help.

    • Again Bank of America offers co-signers aka joint credit card accounts. You can call them or use their live chat option and they will answer all your questions.

      By the way if paid on time your should start seeing improvements on your credit within 9 months. You can also do a secured credit card, but the only problem is interest rate is super high, and top it off an annual fee.

      To open a joint account bofa’s number is 1.866.227.1544

  13. Joint credit card accounts do exist. Bank of America offers one. Once you build your credit up you can take the co-signer’s name off of the card, but the bad thing is you will affect their credit. So it’s best to use this as a last resource, and if you do it then keep the co-signer on it, but put the card away and then apply for a different credit card with just your name.

  14. Joint credit cards are great for a couple but it all comes down to the personal responsibility of each partner. If a partner has a history of credit mismanagement, then why use joint credit. For me and my hubby, it has worked great and actually it is fun sharing financial ideas and goals together