Are joint credit cards a good idea?

7 min read
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Most people share their financial lives with someone else in some way, shape or form. It’s very common to take out a mortgage that lasts up to 30 years with a co-borrower, for example, and you may have a joint checking account or joint savings with a partner or spouse.

You probably share living expenses with at least one other person, and maybe you even cosigned on a child’s student loans.

When it comes to credit cards, however, joint cards aren’t really “a thing” anymore — at least, they’re not widely available. But there are other ways to share a credit card with another person.

Two ways you can share a credit card

For the most part, there are two main ways to share a credit card with another person.

  • You can add an authorized user to an existing credit card (or become an authorized user on someone else’s account)
  • You can open a joint account with a co-signer or co-borrower

By adding an authorized user, you’re adding another person to a card account that is already in operation. Authorized users will get their own credit card with their name on it, but their purchases and other transactions will post to the primary card holder’s account.

Also note that authorized users don’t have to go through a credit check to be added as an authorized user. The primary cardholder is taking all the responsibility, so a hard inquiry on the authorized user’s credit report isn’t required.

With a joint account, on the other hand, you’ll apply with a credit card together with another person similar to how you would if you apply for a mortgage or a car loan. This means you’ll both have a hard inquiry on your credit report when you apply, and that both of your financial situations will be considered for approval.

Authorized user vs. joint cardholder — which is better?

It’s hard to say whether joint accounts or authorized users are better for anyone in particular, but there are some distinct differences to be aware of.

With joint cardholders, for example, both parties are equally liable for repaying any purchases made to the credit card. And if both parties fail to meet their responsibilities, both will sustain damage to their credit scores. On the flip side, adding an authorized user to an existing credit card doesn’t make the second party liable for repayment. Only the primary cardholder — the person who had the card to begin with — is responsible for repaying all charges on the card, plus interest and fees.

Another difference is one that probably matters to someone trying to build credit. While credit bureaus will note the payments and credit movements of all cardholders on a joint account, not all credit card issuers report payments for authorized user accounts to the bureaus.

Also be aware that, if you add an authorized user to your account, you may be able to set a spending limit that applies to their card only. This won’t be the case with a joint credit card where you’ll both have access to the entire line of credit.

With these differences in mind, there are some things that work the same with joint accounts and authorized user accounts:

  • With joint accounts and authorized users, any rewards you earn will all pool in the same place.
  • Having more people on a single account can help you rack up rewards faster.
  • Both types of accounts can help you both improve your credit scores, although whether or not your card reports authorized user activity will make a difference.

Which banks offer joint accounts?

If you specifically want a joint credit card account, you’ll need to find a card issuer that offers this option. Unfortunately, joint credit cards aren’t easy to find at all.

While most banks don’t offer joint credit card accounts, there are still some that have the option. The three main banks that offer the joint account option are Bank of America, U.S. Bank, and PNC Bank.

Best credit cards for joint holders

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

  • Introductory offer of $200 in online cash rewards after $1,000 in purchases during the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back on a category of your choosing (travel, gas, online shopping, dining, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings) and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs for up to $2,500 in combined choice/grocery/wholesale category purchases quarterly
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee

This is a great card for a joint account because each month you have the opportunity to change your 3 percent cash back category. This will allow both cardholders to choose categories that fit their shopping habits.

Bank of America doesn’t take co-applicants for new credit cards. However, once you’re approved for a card, you can add a co-applicant to your account by calling the customer service number on the back of your card. In this instance, a co-applicant and a joint owner are the same thing.

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 5% cash back per quarter on two categories of your choosing on up to $2,000 in purchases
  • Earn 2% cash back for one category of your choosing (gas stations, grocery stores or restaurants)
  • Earn 1% cash back for all other qualifying purchases
  • $150 bonus cash back with $500 in eligible purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • No annual fee

Having the ability to rotate categories each quarter gives you and your joint cardholder the ability to maximize your cash back rewards based on your spending habits. You also get to choose one permanent cash back category.

To add a joint cardholder, you simply have to fill out and send the Joint Owner Form with your application. U.S. Bank allows you to add a joint owner for all cards except College Cards.

The information about the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

PNC Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card

  • $100 bonus cash back after $1,000 in purchases during the first 3 billing cycles after account opening
  • Earn 4% cash back on gas station purchases, 3% cash back on dining and 2% cash back at grocery stores (up to $8,000 per year in combined purchases in these categories annually)
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee

This cash back card will have you and your co-applicant covered in a variety of categories for your household. You can use your cash back credit towards something you both want or distribute it evenly for each person to make their own purchases.

How to choose the best joint credit card

Choosing the best joint credit card will come down to what meets the needs of you and your joint applicant. It’s important to have clear communication going into this process, especially since you will both be responsible for making payments on the card. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

Check your credit reports

Before you start the application process, make sure to run your credit reports to see what credit card options are available to you. Many joint credit card accounts are looking for credit scores in the good to excellent range (670-850). If you or your partner have a lower credit score, you may want to take some time to improve your scores before you apply.

Look for a card that meets your spending needs

Talk with your partner about how you think you will use your joint credit card. This will help you choose a card that can meet both of your spending needs. If you both are looking for a card you can use for filling up on gas, then a gas rewards card would work. If you are interested in a gas card, but your partner is interested in travel rewards, you may be better off applying for a card with rotating rewards categories.

Have a plan for making payments

Choosing a credit card to share with another person will require you both to think about how you want to handle monthly payments. Make sure you and your partner have a plan for how you will manage purchases on the card and their repayment. Will you each pay off the purchases you make or will you handle the bill with a 50/50 split? Will each person have an individual credit limit or will purchases be up to your own discretion? Or will you only use the card for household purchases that you make together? Knowing how you will handle credit card purchases and repayments is important.

Decide how you will handle rewards

If you’re applying for a rewards card, be clear about how you will distribute the rewards you earn. You may decide that you want to pool rewards on the card to use towards things you will do or use together. However, you may also make the decision to distribute points individually based on what each of you has earned.

Be open to the ‘authorized user’ route

Opening a joint account will require you and your partner to have a credit check. If one of you doesn’t qualify for the card you want, going the ‘authorized user’ route may be a better option. Most card issuers allow you to add an authorized user to your account as a primary cardholder. An authorized user doesn’t have to have a credit check because the primary cardholder is fully responsible for the credit card account.

Have an exit plan

There are lots of reasons that joint accounts may need to be closed. Be sure you understand the credit card terms and conditions for cancelling a joint account. Also, check to see if it is possible for one joint owner to maintain the account. If it is, be clear on how you will decide who gets to keep the account.

The bottom line

Getting a joint credit card may sound like a good idea, but there’s a reason these accounts are falling out of fashion. Having your own card means you’ll never have to stress over another person’s purchases, and you’ll be able to earn your own credit card signup bonuses and ongoing rewards on your spending.

Adding an authorized user to your account can make sense if you want to help someone else build credit or if you want to earn rewards on all their purchases. If you want your child or dependent to have access to your credit limit for emergencies, that’s another good reason to consider it.

Can you get a joint credit card? The scenarios we described above show that, yes, you absolutely can. But, should you? At the end of the day, only you can decide.