The offers on this page are from advertisers who pay us. That may influence which products we write about, but it does not affect what we write about them. Here's an explanation of how we make money.

Authorized user credit cards vs. joint credit cards: Which is better?

Yahoo Personal Finance· Getty Images

Whether you want to help a loved one build their credit history or simply want to give a relative access to an existing credit line, there are two main ways to share a credit card with another person: adding them as an authorized user or opening a joint credit card.

When thinking about a joint credit card vs. authorized users, consider that these two options have distinct differences. Although both options will allow your relative to benefit from your credit history, a joint credit card user is equally responsible for any charges, but an authorized user is not.

What is an authorized user?

If you want to give a loved one — such as a spouse or child — the ability to make charges on an existing credit card account, you can contact your credit card issuer and request that they add the person to your account as an authorized user. Most credit card companies allow cardholders to add family members or friends as authorized users, but there may be an added charge for each user that you add.

When you add an authorized user to your account, the credit card company will issue a separate card to your loved one, and any charges the authorized user makes will count against your current credit limit.

Benefits of authorized users

There are several benefits to adding someone as an authorized user:

  • It can help their credit: Will adding an authorized user build credit? The answer is yes! When you add an authorized user to your account, the history of that account will show up on your loved one's credit report. If the authorized user didn't have an established credit history before and you've had the account open for some time and kept in good standing, adding them to your account can significantly boost their credit scores. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ credit cards allow cardholders to add spouses with lower credit scores as authorized users to help boost their score.

  • You'll earn more rewards: You'll earn rewards at your card's normal rewards rate on any purchases the authorized user makes, so you can accrue more cash-back rewards — like with the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card — points, or airline miles.

  • It's quick and easy: Adding an authorized user is a quick and easy process, and there's no need for a credit check.

Drawbacks of authorized users

Although there are advantages — particularly for the authorized user — to granting access to your card to a loved one, there are also some significant drawbacks.

You, as the primary user, are responsible for any charges that the authorized user makes. The authorized user has no legal responsibility for any charges, so the credit card company will pursue payments from you.

For example, say you added your teen as an authorized user so they have a card for emergencies. However, your child — not fully understanding how credit cards work — goes on a shopping spree and buys games online, racking up a significant balance. Although your child made the charges, you are the one who will have to make payments.

That said, authorized users can be removed from your account. If your loved one acts irresponsibly, you have the option of taking away their charging privileges.

What is a joint credit card?

Another way to share a credit card is to apply for a joint credit card with your loved one. Typically, joint credit cards are used by people in close relationships, such as those who are married or in committed relationships.

With a joint credit card, each account holder is equally responsible for the full amount of the balance, and the credit card issuer can pursue payments from either party.

Advantages of joint credit cards

Applying for a joint credit card can be a good idea for the following reasons:

  • You may qualify for better rates and rewards: When you apply for a joint card with someone who has excellent credit, you may qualify for a card with lower rates and better rewards than you'd be able to get on your own.

  • It can simplify your bills: With a joint credit card, managing your shared bills can be easier since you can use one card for your charges rather than handling them separately.

  • It can improve your credit history: If the account is used responsibly — meaning you make all of the payments on time and you keep the balance low — having a joint credit card can help improve the credit of the person with the lower credit score.

Disadvantages of joint credit cards

Despite its advantages, a joint credit card does have some drawbacks to keep in mind:

  • They're rare: Most credit card issuers allow authorized users, but issuers that allow joint credit cards are uncommon.

  • If the relationship ends, dividing the card can be difficult: The responsibility for the balance of a joint credit card is shared by both parties, so it can get complicated if the relationship changes. You may have to close the account to stop being responsible for any additional charges the other cardholder makes.

  • It affects both credit scores: Although applying for and using a joint card can benefit the person with a lower credit score, it can also have a negative impact. If either party racks up a balance or misses payments, the credit scores of both will be damaged.

Joint credit card vs. authorized user: Which is better?

If you want to share access to a credit card, adding someone as an authorized user or applying for a joint card are both ways to accomplish that goal. But though there are some similarities between these two approaches, they are very different. When deciding which option is better for you, there are five factors you should consider:

  • Goals for the card: Think about what goals you have for sharing the card. If you want to help someone build their credit or access to a credit line for emergencies but are willing to cover their charges, adding someone as an authorized user may be a good idea. But if you want them to be equally responsible for the payments, a joint credit may be a better choice.

  • Control: You have more control over an authorized user than you do with a joint cardholder. With an authorized user, some credit cards allow you to set spending limits for authorized users, so you can restrict how much someone can charge. With a joint credit card, you both have access to the full credit limit, so the other person can make charges up to the full credit limit — and you'll share responsibility for the balance's repayment.

  • Trust: Adding someone as an authorized user or applying for a joint card requires a significant amount of trust, but there is more flexibility with authorized users. If the authorized user uses the card responsibly or racks up too much debt, you can remove them at any time. With a joint credit card, you can't remove the other person without closing the card.

  • Cost: Joint credit cards are often issued by credit unions and smaller banks, so there may not be any fees for having a joint account. By contrast, adding an authorized user often means paying an added fee.

  • Availability: Few credit card issuers offer joint credit card accounts; cards that allow authorized users are much more common.

Which option is best for you depends on your goals for the card and the level of trust you have with the other person. Regardless of which option you choose, it's important to have open and ongoing discussions about card use, permitted charges, and payments to avoid hurt feelings (or unnecessary credit card debt).

Editorial Disclosure: The information in this article has not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The details on financial products, including card rates and fees, are accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information. This site doesn't include all currently available offers.