What is an authorized user on a credit card?

An authorized user is someone who’s been given access to use another cardholder’s account. Authorized users can usually make purchases with a credit card linked to the account. But the primary account holder is responsible for making account payments.

There are several reasons why an account holder might add an authorized user, like helping family members build credit or access the account. Before adding an authorized user, it helps to understand how it works, the responsibilities an authorized user may have and how it could impact credit scores.

Key takeaways

  • An authorized user is someone who’s been granted access to use another cardholder’s account.
  • An authorized user isn’t legally responsible for the charges they add to an account—unlike a co-signer or joint account holder.
  • Adding an authorized user may help them build their credit and learn about using a credit card responsibly.
  • Adding an authorized user to your Capital One account and giving them online access could make managing household expenses easier.

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Adding an authorized user helps you see household purchases in one place.

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What does adding an authorized user to a credit card mean?

When an authorized user is added to a credit card account, they’re typically allowed to make charges on the credit card—and might even get their own card. But they aren’t required to make payments every month. That responsibility still typically falls to the account holder, whether there are other authorized users or not.

In some cases, the account holder may be able to make the authorized user a manager of the account. That could allow the authorized user to do things like track purchases, report issues and redeem rewards. Those are a few reasons why it’s important for account holders and authorized users to be on the same page when it comes to using credit responsibly.

Who can be an authorized user?

Becoming an authorized user generally depends on two things: the account holder and the credit card issuer. 

Issuers may have rules about who can be added or what age authorized users must be. From there, a lot of it is up to the cardholder.

Whatever the relationship, trust is key. Once an authorized user is given access to an account, they typically can use their card—with or without permission—until access is revoked. If you’re considering adding an authorized user, it might be a good idea to talk about budgeting and spending beforehand.

Authorized user on a credit card: advantages and disadvantages

There are several benefits to adding an authorized user to a credit card:

 

Advantages for cardholders Advantages for authorized users
  • Gaining access to a credit card
  • Building credit based on the primary cardholder’s credit behavior

 

But there’s a flip side to each of those potential advantages. Disagreements over spending could lead to a strained relationship. If a card is used irresponsibly, that could set a poor teaching example. And, most importantly, it could affect the credit scores of both the primary cardholder and any authorized users.

How can being an authorized user affect your credit?

First, it’s important to know that credit card companies aren’t required to report an authorized user’s activity to the three major credit bureaus. And if the information doesn’t appear in a credit report, it may not affect an authorized user’s credit or credit scores at all.

But if the card issuer reports the information, the authorized user may see positive effects on their credit if both the account holder and the authorized user use the credit card responsibly. That means doing things like making sure monthly payments are on time and keeping balances low.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) notes, “Credit scores are based on experience over time.” So if the primary cardholder has good credit and uses their card responsibly, simply adding an authorized user could help that person start a credit history.

Can an authorized user hurt the primary cardholder’s credit?

If the authorized user doesn’t use the account responsibly, it can hurt the credit of both the account holder and authorized user.

Negative actions, like missed payments, could affect both the primary cardholder’s and authorized user’s credit. And because multiple people have access to the account, there’s the risk of miscommunication or overspending. And that could affect the original cardholder’s credit utilization ratio.

With that in mind, it can be a good idea to discuss responsible credit card use to avoid mistakes that reflect poorly on both parties’ scores. The primary cardholder may also be able to place a spending limit on the authorized user’s card.

How to add authorized users to a credit card account

Account holders can add authorized users to their credit card account by contacting the card issuer. Each issuer may have a different process for adding and removing authorized users of a credit card account.

Before adding an authorized user to your Capital One account, you’ll need some information about the user, like their Social Security number and date of birth. You can then sign in to your account online to easily add and choose the level of access for your authorized user. Your authorized user may also be eligible for online access, which allows them to use their own credentials to sign in and easily view details related to their card and spending.

Authorized users vs. co-signers and joint account holders

The difference between authorized users, co-signers and joint account holders has to do with the level of access and responsibility each party has over a particular account. 

For example, authorized users can charge money to your account, but they can’t add other authorized users or dispute charges. They also can’t request credit limit increases, transfer balances or close the account. In contrast, joint account holders can do all of those things and more. Take a closer look at the differences below.

Co-signer

A co-signer vouches for someone who’s applying for their own credit card. The co-signer is telling the credit card company that if the cardholder can’t pay, they will.

Typically, co-signers don’t get a card of their own, receive monthly statements or have access to the credit card account. And not all issuers allow co-signers.

Joint account holders

A joint credit card account works like a traditional credit card, except the account is shared. Joint cardholders get their own cards linked to the account. And both cardholders are responsible for paying the balance every month—no matter who made the original purchases.

Removing a joint account holder can be trickier than removing an authorized user from an account. While some issuers may allow an account holder to remove someone from a joint account, many issuers or state laws prohibit an account holder from removing a person without their explicit consent.

Authorized credit card user FAQs

Still curious about authorized credit card users? Check out these frequently asked questions to learn more.

How many authorized users can be on a credit card account?

The number of authorized users that can be on a credit card account depends on the issuer and its policy. Credit card issuers set their own policies, so the answer may differ from issuer to issuer.

How do I become an authorized user on a credit card? 

To become an authorized user, consider talking to a trusted friend or family member with an active credit card account. If they agree to add an authorized user, they can reach out to their credit card issuer to start the process or check what options are available online.

Can I remove an authorized user from my credit card?

If you need to take an authorized user off your account, the CFPB recommends contacting your credit card issuer’s customer service department. “You can also ask the card issuer if you should get a new card with a new number,” the agency says.

And if you’re a Capital One cardholder, you can easily remove an authorized user by signing in to your account online or through the Capital One Mobile app.

Are authorized users responsible for payments?

Authorized users typically aren’t responsible for making payments. That responsibility typically falls to the primary account holder.

Are authorized users responsible for debt after death?

The CFPB says that authorized users generally aren’t responsible for paying the debts of deceased primary account holders.

Credit card authorized users in a nutshell

An authorized user is anyone added to a credit card account who can make charges on the card. It can be beneficial for simplifying finances among family members. Or it can be used to help someone establish a credit history. 

It’s important to remember that the only way to build credit with a credit card is with responsible use. By doing things like making payments on time each month, an authorized user may be able to benefit. On the other hand, bad habits could end up hurting a primary account holder and any authorized users.

Interested in adding—or becoming—an authorized user? Learn more about the benefits and how you can add an authorized user to a Capital One account.

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