Joint credit cards allow two people to share one account equally — both account holders are responsible for paying card charges and will have any debt from the account reflected on their credit reports.
The arrangement is rare these days, as most issuers prefer that just one person is responsible for an account. But it's possible to find cards that offer the feature, like the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, as well as the Apple Card, which will allow up to six account "co-owners."
In the same way that a joint bank account or mortgage could prove risky, there are potential pitfalls that come with sharing a credit card this way, including debt liability and possible credit damage. Still, there are cases in which a joint account may be convenient or necessary.
Here's what to keep in mind before opting for a joint credit card, as well as alternatives to consider.
What to know before getting a joint credit card account
A joint credit card account is in many ways similar to a co-signer arrangement, though there may be differences depending on the card issuer. (Cards that allow co-signers are also few and far between.)
With a co-signed account, there's typically a listed primary cardholder who's solely allowed to make charges, and a co-signer who agrees to take on the account’s debt if the primary borrower can't pay.
But here's the main thing to know: With both a joint credit card and a co-signed account, co-holders are jointly responsible for the account’s debt. So consider these risks before opting for such arrangements:
You’re liable for your co-owner's debt
Joint account holders are legally responsible for paying any charges made to the shared credit card. This means that both users have equal access to the card’s line of credit and that no matter which cardholder makes a charge, both will be liable for any debt incurred. If both individuals have good spending habits, managing an account together can pose fewer challenges. But if your joint account holder is apt at racking up card charges or missing bill payments, it can prove costly for you and your credit scores.
Having an agreement between both account holders can help to avoid unearned and unwanted debt. But, again, regardless of any informal arrangements made, both individuals are legally responsible for paying the card’s bills.
Your credit scores could suffer if the relationship deteriorates
If you and your account co-holder part ways due to a falling out, divorce or death, for example, you may have to close the card account and/or open a new one — both of which can negatively impact your credit scores.
In addition to potential dings to your scores, closing the account may result in one cardholder being left to pay off any remaining debt on the card.
Because of the often unpredictable nature of personal relationships, setting expectations for managing money jointly can help to avoid any potential risks to your financial health in the future.
There’s no spending privacy
You’re likely to opt for a joint credit card account with someone you already have a personal relationship with, like a partner or child. Even so, it's important to remember that because all card charges are accessible to both individuals, there won’t be much privacy as far as spending goes. For that reason, it's important to use some discretion regarding whom you choose to share your account with.
Why you might want a joint credit card account
If you’re already sharing most finances with a partner or spouse, for example, then it may make sense to open a joint credit card. For some, having all finances under one roof may make budgeting and managing money easier. What's more, depending on your spending habits and the issuer, having two users on an account can help you rack up credit card rewards faster.
Additionally, if you have poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or lower), setting up a joint account with a partner with stronger credit can give you access to better card options. And assuming you use the card responsibly, it’s unlikely your partner will torpedo your score after a proven history of good credit, so you’ll reap the benefits of their good spending habits.
Some alternatives to joint credit card accounts
If you’re looking to open a joint account because you’re unable to qualify for a credit card on your own, these alternative options can help you establish or rebuild credit:
"Authorized user" status. To become an authorized user, you must be added to an existing cardholder’s account. Authorized users will be given their own cards with which they can make charges. But unlike joint account holders, authorized users aren't liable for the debt. This means that you may be able to benefit from the primary cardholder's good credit habits, without being legally responsible for the card’s bills.
Secured credit cards. Such cards require an upfront refundable cash deposit that’s equal to your credit limit. This deposit mitigates the risk to the issuer and makes it easier for individuals with poor credit to qualify for the card. The best secured credit cards report to all three credit bureaus, which means that as your credit improves, you’ll become eligible for better cards.