What is a Credit Card Authorized User? Example & How it’s Used


Becoming a credit card authorized user can help establish credit, but there are duties and risks. Understanding the role of authorized users is important for primary cardholders and those building credit in the dynamic credit card environment. People can decide to authorize users or add them to their accounts by following the instructions and weighing the pros and downsides. This page discusses authorized users, how they affect credit ratings, and alternatives.

What is a credit card authorized user?

An authorized user is someone who has official permission to use another person’s credit card but isn’t legally responsible for paying the bill. For personal cards, authorized users are often family members, such as a child or a spouse.

How being an authorized user works

Users must be authorized by their cards. However, some banks have minimum user ages, but anyone can be permitted. In contrast, unlike principal cardholders, authorized users are not credit-reviewed. Moreover, some credit card issuers give authorized users a unique card linked to their primary account.

On the other hand, others let authorized users use the primary account holder’s card. Nevertheless, credit card charges are not the responsibility of authorized users. Even though the primary cardholder may expect the authorized user to pay for everything, they are legally responsible. Furthermore, since one partner is an authorized user on the other’s credit card, the cardholder is liable for any charges incurred after the breakup. In some cases, authorized users may pay the cardholder to help the principal.

Alternatively, the principal cardholder could also let them pay online. It’s important to note that card statements may split authorized users’ spending, although they rarely arrive monthly. Additionally, authorized users have card usage limits. However, authorized users cannot add users, change account addresses or PINs, request credit limits or interest rates, or close accounts. In contrast, primary cardholders can limit approved user spending, not the card issuer. As an example, some American Express cards enable primary cardholders to limit authorized users to $200.

How being (or having) an authorized user affects your credit score

Many people improve or rebuild credit by becoming authorized users on others’ credit cards. Specifically, for those with a “thin file,” being an authorized user is one way to get a credit card and build a credit history. In particular, students and recent grads often face this challenge. Moreover, becoming an authorized user might also help someone with a poor credit score get approved for a card. However, adding you as an authorized user won’t affect your credit reports or scores unless the card issuer includes you in the information it sends to the main credit agencies.

On the downside, if the authorized user or primary cardholder runs up a lot of debt or can’t pay their bills, it can lower both their ratings. Just as primary cardholders must be careful when adding an authorized user, would-be authorized users must be sure they’re not entrusting their finances to someone who’ll hurt their credit.

Authorized user vs. joint account

Adding an authorized user to a credit card isn’t the only way that two people can share an account. Another is opening a joint account together. The principal difference between these two arrangements is that with a joint account, both parties’ credit scores will be considered when they apply, and if they’re approved, they’ll both be legally responsible for making payments.

Other alternatives to authorized user

People who can’t get a credit card on their own have additional options:

Find a co-signer: A co-signer signs a credit card application and agrees to pay the debts if the applicant defaults. Modern card issuers rarely accept co-signers, making it hard to find one that does. Co-signing for mortgages and car loans is still widespread.

Secured credit cards are distinct from unsecured cards and are for persons with bad credit or a limited credit history. An individual deposits money into a bank account linked with the card issuer to establish a credit line on a secured card. Cardholders can use the card like other cards but can’t spend more than their deposit. Cardholders can usually get a regular card after using and paying their protected card. Most major card issuers provide secured cards.

Building Credit Through Authorized User Status

Meet Sarah and David, a newly married couple. Sarah has a robust credit history with an excellent credit score, while David, unfortunately, has a limited credit history and a lower credit score. They decide to leverage the concept of authorized users to help David improve his credit.


  • Sarah: She has been using credit cards responsibly for several years, paying her bills on time, and maintaining a low credit utilization ratio. As a result, she enjoys a high credit score.
  • David: He is relatively new to the world of credit. While he has a basic credit card, he hasn’t had it for long, and he made some late payments in the past, which negatively impacted his credit score.

How It Works: Sarah adds David as an authorized user on one of her credit cards. Here’s how it plays out:

  1. Authorized User Access: David receives his own authorized user card linked to Sarah’s account. This card allows him to make purchases using Sarah’s credit card account.
  2. Credit Building: By using this authorized user card responsibly, David can improve his credit history. Since Sarah’s account activity is reported to the credit bureaus, David’s responsible use of the card contributes positively to his credit report. This helps him establish a credit history and demonstrate responsible credit use.
  3. Credit Score Improvement: Over time, David’s credit score starts to rise. His on-time payments, lower credit utilization, and Sarah’s positive credit history collectively impact his credit score positively.

Potential Pitfalls:

  • Shared Responsibility: While David is an authorized user, Sarah remains legally responsible for all charges on the credit card. If David were to rack up significant debt or fail to make payments, it could strain their financial relationship.

Outcome: After a year of being an authorized user, David’s credit score has significantly improved. He now has a more favorable credit history, which will be invaluable for their future financial endeavors, such as applying for a mortgage or taking out a loan.

This scenario illustrates how becoming an authorized user can be a beneficial strategy for someone with a limited credit history to build and improve their credit score with the help of a responsible primary cardholder.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Build credit as an authorized user.
  • Access to a credit card without the need for credit checks.
  • It helps individuals establish a credit history.
  • The primary cardholder is responsible for all charges.
  • A credit score may be negatively affected if charges go unpaid.

Frequently asked questions

What is an authorized user on a credit card?

An authorized user is someone who has permission to use another person’s credit card but is not legally responsible for the bill.

How does becoming an authorized user affect credit?

Becoming an authorized user can help build or rebuild credit if the card issuer reports the information to credit bureaus. However, if either the authorized user or the primary cardholder fails to pay charges, it can negatively impact both their credit scores.

Can a primary cardholder remove an authorized user from their account?

Yes, primary cardholders can remove authorized users from their accounts, but they remain responsible for any charges up to that point.

How much does it cost to add an authorized user?

Many card issuers don’t charge for adding authorized users, although some (particularly premium or rewards cards) may charge a modest fee.

Can a card have more than one authorized user?

Some card issuers allow for multiple authorized users, although they may cap the total number.

Key takeaways

  • Becoming an authorized user on a credit card allows individuals to use another person’s card without being legally responsible for the bill.
  • This can help build or rebuild credit, but it depends on whether the card issuer reports the authorized user’s information to credit bureaus.
  • Both the authorized user and primary cardholder should be cautious about their financial responsibilities, as unpaid charges can negatively impact their credit scores.
  • Alternative options include having a co-signer or applying for a secured credit card.
View article sources
  1. 2019 Small Business Credit Survey – Federal Reserve
  2. Applying for A Credit Card – SuperMoney
  3. Adding an Authorized User — What You Need to Know – Take Charge America
  4. Understanding Your Credit – Federal Reserve