Differences Between Joint Cardholder vs. Authorized User

Posted by Shaun Morgan in Credit CardsDecember 15, 2022(Last Updated November 20, 2022)5 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Authorized users and joint cardholders are the same until you have an issue.
  • Adding an authorized user gives you more control.
  • Any relationship with a credit card requires trust, communication, and honesty.
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Authorized users and joint credit card holders can confuse someone who is new to getting a credit card or who wants to get one. However, knowing the differences and similarities between an authorized user and joint cardholders must be clearly understood before adding someone to your credit card. Below is more information about what makes authorized users and joint credit card holders different and how a person can benefit from either.


What is an authorized user?


An authorized user is someone added to your credit card that has the right to make purchases with that card but does not hold any responsibility to repay it. For some credit card companies, the authorized user can make payments on the card, but they are not legally obligated to do so. In this instance, there is a principal card holder, the person to whom the card was issued, and the person authorized to use it. When the bill is due, the principal cardholder is responsible for paying it.


Although the principal cardholder is responsible for the bill, it doesn’t mean that the authorized user is consequence-free. The authorized user will still be affected by credit reporting on the card. So, if the principal cardholder decides not to pay the bill, then the credit score for both the principal credit cardholder and the authorized user can decrease. 


If you want to add someone to your credit card account, this is the easiest way to add them since there is no credit check on an authorized user.


Recommended Reading: Pros and Cons of Having an Authorized User


What is a joint credit card holder?


A joint credit card holder is someone with whom you’ve applied for a credit card. Both of you had your credit score run, which affected the APR (Annual Percentage Rate), and ultimately, both of you are responsible for the card's balance.


That means that if one of the joint credit card holders were to die, the other would be responsible for paying for the accumulated debt on the card. Also, since both of your names are on the account, all credit reporting would affect both cardholders.


Asian woman teach senior use credit card and phone for online shopping


Authorized User vs. Joint Cardholder




A joint cardholder and an authorized user can both make purchases on their issued credit card. Each person will have a card with their name on it and can use it as needed. The most significant similarity is that your credit will be impacted for good or bad whether you are an authorized user or a joint card holder.


Recommended Reading: 3 Tips to Build and Improve Your Credit Score




Even though an authorized user and a joint cardholder act the same on a daily basis, they are quite different when you get down into the nitty gritty.


Payments and responsibility


The authorized users have no responsibility whatsoever for the payments on the credit card. The card must be paid for in full by the primary account holder. In fact, should a card go into collections, an authorized user still bears no responsibility for paying the bill. But their credit can still be affected by the bill going into collections. 


On the other hand, having an account in collections with a joint cardholder would affect both cardholders since both users are responsible for the payment of the account.


Handling issues


Have you ever had a problem you needed to call customer service about and didn’t have the time for? If you are the primary cardholder with authorized users, that’s too bad, you have to make the call. Since the responsibility rests entirely on you, the credit card company can’t discuss your financials with any other individual. 


For a joint cardholder, on the other hand, either of the cardholders can talk to the card issuer about an issue since both are on the account.


Control over the account


Controlling an account includes setting automatic payments or requesting credit limit increases. An authorized user has no control over a credit card account. In some instances, an authorized user can even be limited by the main cardholder, for example, when minors have a card with a parent. 


For joint cardholders, both users have control over the card.


Recommended Reading: Americans Rely More on Credit Cards Due to Inflation


Application process


To get a joint credit card, you must apply jointly (the principal cardholder can also add a joint cardholder later on). That means both of your names and social security numbers are on the application, both credit scores are checked, and the inquiry goes on both accounts. 


An authorized user can be added to a card at almost any time and quite easily. In most instances, filling out a quick form and then waiting for a card in the mail is all it takes. While joint applications usually have to take place when the card is issued, an authorized user can be added whenever.


Closing the account


Removing an authorized user from an account is much easier than closing an account with a joint cardholder. Since the responsibility for the joint cardholders lies with both parties, both cardholders must sign off to close the account. This is especially difficult if you and the other joint cardholders no longer see eye to eye. However, if you no longer want an authorized user on your account, you simply request that they are removed, and their card becomes inactive.


When should I use an authorized user setup?


In general, an authorized user is the better option when you want to add someone to your card because you are still in control. Even though you are now liable for someone else’s spending, at least you can cut them off from the card if you had to. But, unless there is a very good reason to add someone to a credit card, it is best to just keep separate credit cards to avoid any problems. 


Here’s when you should add an authorized user:


  • Someone in your household doesn’t have the credit to get their own credit card.
  • You want to boost a household member's credit score, such as a young adult with no credit history.
  • A young person needs access to money (you can set up limits on these cards).


Happy young gay couple using laptop computer while sitting on a couch at home, shopping online with a credit card


When should I use a joint credit card holder setup?


There are some good reasons to get a joint card. For example, if you want to run your household expenses through one card, both partners are in control of and responsible enough to pay together.


Cautionary tale


Credit card debt can be the worst due to its above-average interest rate. That means you need to be extra careful when allowing someone else access to use it. 


When Jane started her relationship with Joel, Joel seemed very responsible, and everything was fine. She added him as an authorized user on her card but didn’t pay attention carefully enough. The relationship soured, and finally, Jane got around to checking her credit card statement. Without her realizing it, Joel had racked up $15,000 in debt on her card, and she was now responsible for paying it off.


This story happens more often than you’d think, and it serves as a reminder that trust, communication, and honesty are most important when dealing with finances. You shouldn’t add someone to a card until these qualities are fully established.


Recommended Read: Money Conversations as a Couple


The Money Wrap-Up


Authorized users bear no responsibility for payments. However, joint cardholders bear all responsibility for their credit card. Credit cards can make or break your financial situation, so handling your finances with care is a must because your financial health depends on it.

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