What is the difference between a credit card joint account holder and an authorized user?

Written by
Maryalene Laponsie
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A credit card doesn’t have to be something you manage or use alone. Some credit card companies issue joint cards while almost allow authorized users to be added to an account. Which one you choose depends largely on whether you want to manage finances with another person or simply provide them with access to credit.

Be sure you understand how each option works, and the risks and benefits involved. We’ll help you sort out the details below.

Joint credit card vs. authorized user

Is an authorized user the same as a joint account? No, these are two different things. One allows two people to share card ownership while the other gives someone permission to use an existing credit card account without being an owner.

Joint accounts

As its name suggests, a joint credit card is one owned by two people. For instance, a married couple or business partners may want to share an account. A joint credit card can simplify money management since all spending occurs in one place. It can also be a good option if one person has limited credit or income and is unable to qualify for a credit card themselves.

However, relatively few credit card issuers offer joint credit cards now. U.S. Bank may be the only major company to make them available, and even there, you won’t be able to apply for the card jointly. Instead, one person can open a credit card account and then request a second person be added as a joint owner.

Authorized user

Since joint credit cards are relatively hard to find nowadays, many people instead designate authorized users as a way to share an account. An authorized user is someone who is approved by the primary cardholder to charge purchases to an account. Since they are not an owner, they are under no legal obligation to pay off the balance.

For someone with limited or poor credit, being added as an authorized user can be an effective way to boost a credit score. While an authorized user is not responsible for the balance on the card, their credit history will reflect payments made on the account.

Can you add someone to your credit card as a co-signer?

You may be wondering if co-signing is the same thing as having a joint account, but these terms refer to different arrangements. With a joint credit card, both people share ownership of the account. Meanwhile, a co-signer doesn’t own an account but is guaranteeing they will cover the balance should the primary accountholder fail make payments.

In the past, people would co-sign on a card to help someone gain access to credit. For instance, a parent might co-sign for an adult child with no credit history. However, the ability to co-sign a card has all but disappeared today. No major credit card issuer allows co-signing although it may be offered by some smaller community banks or credit unions.

Authorized user vs. joint account vs. co-signer

Take a look below to see at a glance how authorized users, joint accounts and co-signers differ.

Authorized User

Joint Account Holder



Offered by most card issuers

U.S. Bank is the only major card issuer to allow join accounts

No major card issuer allows co-signers

May be an option at local community banks and credit unions


Does not own account

Owns the account

Guarantees the account but does not own it


No obligation to pay the balance

Responsible for paying the balance

Responsible for paying the balance if the primary account holder does not


Provides account access regardless of credit history or income

Easy to add and remove to an account

Good options to help improve credit scores for those with limited or poor credit

Allows to people to share a single credit card account

Account typically must be closed to remove one person

May allow someone with limited or poor credit to be approved for a credit card

Co-signer’s credit may be affected if primary cardholder fails to make payments

Credit card issuers may also have other options in addition to these. For instance, Capital One offers an account manager feature. Authorized users who are designated as account managers can track purchases, report problems and earn and redeem rewards. Although not a joint owner, they have nearly equal access to the account as the primary cardholder.

How to decide which option is right for you

To determine which option is right for you, consider your purpose for sharing an account with someone else. The following are common goals people have for shared accounts.

  • Manage finances together: A joint account will put you and the other person on equal footing. You both own the account, have full access to it and are responsible for any debt incurred.
  • Access to credit: When someone can’t access credit themselves, a co-signer can help them gain approval. However, since this is not a readily available option, being named an authorized user on an existing credit card account is an easier way to do this.
  • Boost credit: If poor credit is a problem, being added as an authorized user can help. The authorized user doesn’t even have to be given a card or make purchases to benefit. Simply by being added to an account, their credit should improve so long as the primary cardholder makes timely payments.

Also, keep in mind that authorized users can be easily added or removed from accounts while this may be more complicated for co-signers and joint owners. Many times, the only way to remove your name in these instances is to close the account entirely.

Before agreeing to any of these arrangements, be sure you and the other person have a clear understanding of the following:

  • Each person’s responsibilities
  • How much authorized users can spend
  • When the arrangement will end
  • What happens if one person cannot pay what they owe

Once you have an agreement on these matters, you can begin to look for the right credit card that offers the rewards, rates and perks you need. Start by reviewing the top credit cards of the year.

Maryalene Laponsie
Cardratings Contributor

Maryalene is a freelance contributor to CardRatings.com and specializes in personal finance topics such as credit cards, budgeting, saving and investing. She has written professionally for nearly 25 years and is a regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report, Money Talks News,...Read more

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