credit cards

Should you be an authorized user?

Leslie McFaddenq_v2.gifDear Credit Card Adviser,
I am getting married in four months and we both have three or four credit cards each. None of the cards carry a balance, but we do have $50 annual fees on some of them. She has a higher credit limit than I do, but we both have very good credit scores in the high 700s. My question is, should I close my credit card accounts and just be added to hers or should I keep the cards, pay the fee, and still be added on to hers?
-- Kyle

a_v2.gifDear Kyle,
Getting your bride-to-be to add you as an authorized user on her credit cards may or may not raise your credit score. If the lender doesn't report authorized user accounts to the credit bureaus, then those accounts won't influence your credit rating. They must show up on your credit report to matter.

In addition, not all scoring models count authorized user accounts. VantageScore, the model jointly developed by all three major credit bureaus, ignores authorized user accounts in scoring. Other models, such as FICO, do include them.

Authorized user accounts can benefit your score as long as the account holder pays on time and balances are low compared to the credit limits. A heavily weighted factor in credit score models is the ratio of debt-to-available credit, or utilization, on revolving accounts. Increased spending on these authorized user accounts could inflate this ratio and lower your score. Missed payments could penalize both of your scores.

Even if you decide to share some high-limit credit cards, I still think you should keep a card or two in your name. As I mentioned before, not all scoring models count authorized user accounts. If the marriage sours later on and she drops you as an authorized user, you'll lose years of payment history on those accounts -- and find yourself without any credit cards. Better to play it safe by having your own plastic.

As for canceling out all your cards, closing accounts will never raise your credit score. That said, paying several cards with $50 annual fees as a couple sounds like a waste of money to me unless rewards offset the cost. The fee-based cards make more sense to close, rather than all of your cards. My story, "Why closing an account hurts score," explains the impact to your credit rating.

If you two are in the market for a mortgage or car loan, hold off on closing accounts. You don't want to lose out on a lower interest rate because of a temporary dip in your score.

Congratulations and good luck with your marriage!

Bankrate's content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this Web site, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation. Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this Web site is governed by Bankrate's Terms of Use.

Read more columns by the Credit Card Adviser. To ask a question of the Credit Card Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select "Credit Cards."

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