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If you’re building or rebuilding credit, one step you can take is becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.

As an authorized user, you’ll receive a credit card with your name on it and the primary cardholder’s account number. You can use the card at any time, but the bills will go to the primary cardholder.

Becoming an authorized user helps you establish good credit, since on-time payments may be reported to the credit bureaus under your name. It also provides you with the convenience of a credit card, even if you couldn’t get one on your own.

A lot of people adopt this as a method to build or rebuild credit. Parents may add children as authorized users to help them start building credit. Or, sometimes, one partner in a relationship will have a better credit score than the other and, as an authorized user, the partner with less-than-stellar credit can still enjoy all the benefits of a high-end rewards card. There are some other benefits of adding a partner as an authorized user. Some couples find it convenient to share one credit card account. They can track spending more easily and accrue rewards faster by using one card for all their purchases.

An authorized user doesn’t even have to be a relative. A cardholder can name anyone they trust as an authorized user.

How to remove yourself as an authorized user

There are many reasons why someone may want to be removed as an authorized user and the process is very simple.

If you are the cardholder

To remove an authorized user, call the number on the back of your credit card to reach the card issuer’s customer service number and request the authorized user to be removed from the account.

Sending a letter via certified mail that references the customer service call and details – the name of the user being removed, last four digits of the account number and date of the call – is a way to ensure that the action has been completed. Or, have a point of recourse with the credit card issuer if it isn’t.

If you are removing yourself as an authorized user

If you are removing yourself as an authorized user on an account, the process is the same as above.

Step 1: Call your credit card company’s customer service number (found on the back of your card) and ask to be removed as an authorized user on the account.

Step 2: Follow up with a letter that references the call to the customer service line, the date of the call, the last four digits of the account that you would like to be removed from and your full name. Should any mistakes be made, send via certified mail so you have some proof of your communication.

It’s worth noting that once you do that, you will no longer be allowed to use the card or redeem rewards. If you have any automatic purchases set up with that card, make sure to go online and add a different account or your purchases will be declined.

How does the process differ for joint accounts

An alternative to adding an authorized user is opening a joint credit card account. In this instance the application is joint and both individual’s credit scores, incomes and financial backgrounds are used to make the approval decision for the card. Plus, both parties are equally responsible for the balance on the card. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to separate yourself from a joint credit card account, whether you are the primary user or a co-signer.

If you want to be removed from the account, you’ll have to call the credit card provider and be prepared to negotiate. If the other account holder would qualify for the card on their own, the credit card company may approve your request. If not, your only option is to pay off any outstanding debt and close the account. You remain liable for any payments and any activity will continue to be reflected on your credit reports.

Risks of becoming an authorized user on a credit card account

It’s straightforward to add and remove authorized users, but there are risks involved.

Most notably, the financial behavior of the cardholder may reflect in your credit score – good and bad. For instance, if the primary cardholder misses a payment it could show up on your credit report, and, subsequently, reduce your credit score.

Experian says it does not report late payments on the authorized user’s credit report. Equifax and TransUnion may report both positive and negative items for authorized users.

There are further nuances, for example, if you are added as an authorized user and the primary cardholder doesn’t let you know the available balance on the card, your credit card could be declined.

How being an authorized user impacts your credit

Depending on the financial habits of the primary cardholder, becoming an authorized user can be good or bad. If the account holder makes payments on time and keeps balances low, your credit score can go up. That’s why becoming an authorized user is often recommended as a way for students, young adults, or those with a rocky credit history, to begin rebuilding their credit.

On the other hand, if the primary cardholder regularly makes late payments, fully utilizes the cards balance or carries a large balance, the credit bureaus could use this information against the authorized user.

Late payments could show as derogatory marks on your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. Your credit score could also suffer due to a high credit utilization ratio, which is the second most important factor in determining your credit score.

What to do if the primary cardholder gets into financial difficulty

If the primary cardholder is having difficulty making payments, has made several late payments, or perhaps even has a bankruptcy on the horizon, you may not want your name tied to the credit card.

All three credit bureaus will remove the account from your credit report upon request. That’s the first and most important step. Someone else’s financial mistakes shouldn’t affect your credit history.

Call the credit card issuer and ask them to stop reporting that account to the credit bureaus under your name and to remove the account from your credit file. In most cases, it’s advisable for you to call the issuer and then also follow up by certified mail so you have a record of the exchange.

Follow up in about a month by requesting copies of your credit reports from the three credit bureaus to ensure the change was made. You can get a free copy of each of your credit reports once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

If the account is still listed, you’ll need to file a dispute with the credit bureaus.

Remaining as an authorized user

If you don’t request to be taken off the account as an authorized user, you can still continue to use the card. Any activity won’t show up on your credit report.

It might be in your best interest to work with the cardholder and pay down the debt together—especially if you were responsible for some of the charges. You’re not legally obligated to make any payments, though, because the debt isn’t in your name.

The situation changes a little if you’re married to the primary cardholder. In community property states, the spouse is legally liable for debt incurred by a spouse during the marriage.

Community property states:

  • Alaska*
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

*Note: Alaska is not recognized as a community property state but allows couples to opt into a community property relationship.

In other states, a non-signing spouse cannot be sued for debt.

The bottom line

Weigh the consequences carefully before entangling someone’s finances with your own. Becoming an authorized user can be a great way to build your credit, but you should understand your responsibilities and take action to protect your credit score if the other party is facing financial difficulties.