How Does Being an Authorized User Affect My Credit Score?

A reader writes in looking for advice on whether or not becoming an authorized user on a credit card will help his credit scores.  John Ulzheimer, credit expert for Credit Sesame, answers.

“John, I’m trying to build up my credit score and I read online that if I can get my name added to my parents’ credit card that it will help my credit scores as an authorized user. Is that true? What is an authorized user account and what does it hold me responsible for?”

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The common question “do authorized users build credit?”  is a simple question with a not so simple answer. The “authorized user” strategy is one of the most commonly used methods by people who want to build their credit from scratch and by people who are trying to rebuild their credit after some sort of credit disaster. The strategy is equally effective for both scenarios, and here’s how it works.

[Learn More: Easy Way to Improve Your Credit Score]

How the authorized user on credit card strategy works

You will have your name added to the existing credit card account belonging to another person. But rather than being a co-signer or a joint cardholder, you’re added as an authorized user. A few days later a card with your name on it will be sent to the primary cardholder, who is usually your spouse or one of your parents. Once the card is activated you’ll have the same buying power as the primary cardholder.

Authorized user credit card payment liability

As an authorized signer on a credit card, you are not held liable for the charges or balance on the account. That means you will never be asked to pony up any money to cover the payments. That responsibility will always remain with the primary cardholder and any co-obligors on the account.

Authorized users on credit report cards

Within a few months the history associated with the account will be added to your credit reports. While this is commonly done, it’s not 100% universal. Check with the credit card issuer regarding their credit reporting practices for an authorized user account to make sure they’ll report the account on the authorized user’s credit reports.

[Learn More: How to Fix Your Credit]

Can an authorized users credit score increase?

When the account is added to your credit reports it will immediately be considered by credit scoring systems. It will be measured on par with all of your other accounts, meaning it’s not discounted simply because you’re an authorized user. The only exception is if FICO’s newer scoring models believe you’re simply trying to game the system by having your name added to the account.

FICO’s anti-piggybacking logic

FICO hasn’t provided any public detail on that aspect of their scoring logic but many believe they’ve figured out a way to sniff out scenarios where people have been adding an authorized user to credit card accounts where there’s no legitimate relationship between the two consumers. This process is called “piggybacking” and is an attempt to game the credit scoring system. It’s not much of a problem today but several years ago it was all the rage.

[Learn More: Credit Bureau Reports]

Best results: authorized user tradelines

You’re going to want to have your name added to a credit card account that is old, has a low balance relative to the credit limit, and has always been paid on time. These aspects of the account are very helpful to your credit scores. In fact, you could see your credit scores improve considerably, depending on your individual scenario. This is because when you are an authorized user, the account and all of the information associated with it, will show up on your credit report as a tradeline.

How to remove authorized user from credit card

The best part of being an authorized user is the fact that you have no liability for the account. That means if the primary cardholder does something irresponsible with the account, like miss payments or max out the card, you can easily have your name removed from the account. When a name is removed from the account it’s fairly easy to remove authorized user from credit report as well.

Be aware, however, that the authorized user strategy will run its useful course and then it’s time to establish accounts in your own name. There are some lenders that will want to see that you’ve been a liable party on credit cards before they’ll extend credit. So, you can’t just have your name added to other accounts and assume you’re done building credit.

Give yourself a couple of years and then it’s time to apply for a credit card as the primary cardholder. You may not get terms as aggressive right out of the gate but as long as you make your payments on time you’ll be surprised how quickly credit card issuers will adjust your account attributes, like the credit limit. And you’ll be able to thank the authorized user strategy for helping to get your credit journey started.

[Learn More: Rebuilding Credit]


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Published October 7, 2014 Updated: September 21, 2016
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eugene•  January 2, 2016
Hi. I want my sister to add me as an authorized user on her credit card. If she calls the card issuer first will they confirm whether they will report it to my credit report AND if they'll report the age of the account for the primary card holder or report it as a new account on my report? Thanks.
Carl•  January 20, 2016
To answer your question, does an authorized user get credit history: yes. From my personal experience I think it shows up on your report as an existing account. What I mean to say is the credit history of the authorized account shows up - it is not labelled as a new account. This way adding an authorized user to credit card helps you build credit, but only if the account is in good standing. Hope that helps!
Stephanie S. Boling•  January 19, 2016
Great article John! Just curious about credit card authorized user facts and whether someone who is an authorized user can disengage at any time from being one? How does the process work? Is it unique from issuer to issuer or is there a standard process for having to disconnect from the agreement? Thanks!
Rob D.•  January 22, 2016
Stephanie, I believe piggybacking off credit cards with authorized users gives the authorized user a big increase in credit. However, the opposite can occur and that's when you'd want to consider 'disengaging'. It can be done by either party. An authorized user can disengage at any time with a simple call (it can be slightly different for different companies).
Cathryn Murdoch•  January 19, 2016
Does adding authorized user to credit card impact the credit score of the one actually signing the person up? Or does it not impact them at all - just adds risk? I understand that as an authorized user we will never have to owe any money, but will our reputation be hurt if things go sideways?
Matthew Zirkle•  January 19, 2016
Does being an authorized user help credit? Probably not. At least from what I understand, simply supporting someone else building their credit won't build yours. The authorized credit card user themselves will build credit however, with your support of trusting them, but nothing is really holding you liable, so it won't make or break your credit.
Sara•  January 20, 2016
I agree with Matthew, will being an authorized user build credit? Not directly. However, if you are an authorized user you will be even more motivated to keep your accounts in the positive and pay off any debt in full and on time. In this way, you will be more inclined to act financially responsible because your credit is not the only one on the line. And that in turn can maintain/increase your credit score!
Kari•  January 22, 2016
Does authorized user help credit score or hurt credit score really depends on the person piggybacking's credit. An authorized users score will shadow that of the owner
Arya P•  January 22, 2016
Some questions for someone who understands this topic: does an authorized user get a credit card and is an authorized user responsible for credit card debt? I don't really get it.
Joan Wiley•  January 22, 2016
What is the difference between joint account and authorized user and how many authorized users can be on a credit card? My twin girls are about to go to college and need credit cards!
Jim Agrawal•  January 22, 2016
I am in the process of making my brother an authorized user on credit card. I really want to help him out but can being an authorized user hurt your credit? Thanks in advance!
Christy•  August 5, 2016
If you are an authorized user on a card which maintains a decent balance but continues to be minimally paid, would it be beneficial to remove myself as an authorized user? This is in assumption that lowering my overall debt will improve my credit score after a rough few years?
Christine Fagin•  September 14, 2016
I have very good credit now...I have gotten different numbers from different sources as to my FICO score. I am trying to qualify for a very low interest credit card that requires a 760 FICO score. I applied and was told that Transunion reported it as 718. My Discover and Capital One-which says it pulls from Transunion- report it at 756 and 769 respectively. I am close. My auto loan will finally be paid off in December and thought that is sure to help, but was told that this may actually negatively effect my credit (I assume because it was a high dollar loan and then closing it, it will appear as less spending vs available credit?) I am 65 and still working full time. If the paying off the car won't help, and might hurt, I should find a way to do this BEFORE my last payment in December, I need to find a solution quickly to raise my score to the required 760+. I don't have the funds to pay any of my credit cards down significantly. Would it help if I were to be added to one of my adult daughter's high limit/low balance credit card accounts? She and her husband are both professionals and earn over $325,000 per year between them, and they have excellent credit. Hopefully it would be plausible to FICO that I am being added to cover expenses for their children when I come to take care of them from time to time. Don't want to do this if it won't help or if it could appear I am gaming the system. Advise?