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How being an authorized user affects your credit

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There are many ways to improve your credit score. You can open a secured credit card and begin making small purchases and on-time payments. You can look into alternate credit scoring methods that include reporting your rent and utility payments to the credit bureaus. You can keep the credit accounts you currently have, pay off any outstanding debt and watch your score improve as your age of credit increases.

Or you could become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.

When you become an authorized user on another person’s credit card, you’re putting a portion of your credit score into their hands. If they use their account responsibly, you could see your credit score go up—but if they miss payments or if the two of you use the card to make purchases they can’t pay off, you might start to see your score go down.

What is an authorized user?

An authorized user is a person who is able to make purchases on somebody else’s credit account. People often add partners and spouses as authorized users on their credit cards, for example, and parents sometimes add their teenage children as authorized users to help teens build a credit history and learn how to use credit responsibly.

Authorized users receive credit cards that are connected to the primary cardholder’s line of credit, but they are not responsible for paying off the charges they make on those cards. The person whose name is on the credit account is fully responsible for all charges made to the card.

In other words: if you make someone an authorized user on your credit card and they run up a huge debt, you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible for paying off your credit card debt. Taking on an authorized user makes you liable for any mistakes made along that way, so choose your authorized users carefully. It is always important to establish a reimbursement plan with an authorized user so they can contribute to the charges they make each billing cycle.

Does being an authorized user affect your credit?

Being an authorized user can affect your credit in both positive and negative ways—but it can also have no effect on your credit whatsoever.

There are two factors you need to consider:

  • Whether the lender reports authorized users to the credit bureaus
  • Whether both the credit account owner and the authorized user use their shared account responsibly

In order for your authorized user account to affect your credit, the lender or credit card issuer needs to report that account to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). If the lender doesn’t report activity from an authorized user accounts to the credit bureaus, then those accounts won’t influence your credit rating. Authorized user accounts must show up on your credit report to affect your credit score. If they do, you might see your score change as soon as the lender starts reporting that information to the credit bureaus, which can take as little as 30 days.

Once the authorized user account is part of your credit history, it can benefit your credit score as long as both you and the primary account holder use the account responsibly. If the account holder makes regular on-time payments, for example, you would also get credit for those payments (pun intended) and your credit score could go up. On the other hand, if you and the credit account holder run up a high revolving balance on the credit account, both of your credit scores could take a hit.

How does an authorized user build credit?

An authorized user builds credit when the credit account holder maintains responsible credit habits that help a credit score grow, such as making on-time payments and paying off balances in full. (If the credit account holder is not using the credit card responsibly, you might want to remove yourself as an authorized user from the card.)

You can also build your credit by taking out at least one credit card in your own name, in addition to your authorized user card. A secured credit card is an excellent way to build credit; you put down a small deposit in exchange for a small line of credit, and once you’ve proven that you can handle your credit card responsibly, you’ll get your deposit back and receive a credit line increase.

If you’d rather not take out a secured credit card, you can also look into credit cards for people with low credit scores. These cards might come with higher interest rates and fewer rewards than cards for people with good or excellent credit, but they’re still solid options for people who are hoping to build their credit scores.

The risks of being an authorized user

There is always a risk to being an authorized user. For the primary cardholder, it is the liability that comes with having an authorized user. They are legally responsible for any debt that may come up over time. For the authorized user, piggybacking on someone else’s credit card account can backfire if the primary cardholder pays the bill late or runs up a big balance, for example.

If you find yourself as either person in this scenario, you can remove yourself (or remove the authorized user) from the equation. Often times it just takes a phone call or submitting an online request to the credit card issuer to remove yourself (or someone else) from the account. If you are the cardholder, call the number on the back of your card in order to speak with a customer service representative about removing an authorized user from the account.

If you are trying to remove yourself as an authorized user, the process is the same as mentioned above. The process to remove an authorized user varies by credit card issuer, but the outcome will always be the same.

The bottom line

Becoming an authorized user can help you build your credit history and boost your credit score, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your credit-building tool box. You should also take out credit cards in your own name and practice using those cards responsibly in order to see your score improve over time.

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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