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Once you move in with a partner or get married, it may make sense for you to get a shared credit card. Charging household expenses to one card and paying the bill out of one banking account can streamline your household money management — until one of you makes a credit card mistake, that is.
Unfortunately, even one slip-up can negatively affect credit scores for each of you. The moment you add someone as an authorized user of your card or open a joint account, you’re no longer fully in control of how that card is used. That makes it really important for couples to keep an eye on their credit card spending, bill payments and rewards balances.
Here are some mistakes and miscommunications that can happen, and how to avoid them.
Your combined spending eats up your credit limit
Two people making charges to the same credit card account at the same time means it’s much easier to max out that credit card, or even just to use up more available credit than you want — and that’s not good because it can lower your credit scores. Keep your credit healthy by using no more than 30% of your available credit limit.
Even if you're not spending mindlessly, it can be easy to run up a large monthly bill. And if you don't have the money on hand to pay that bill in full each month, it can start a cycle of credit card debt that can be hard to break.
Set up alerts to let you know when your credit card balance reaches a certain point, or when one of you spends a large sum.
Regularly talk about upcoming expenses and agree to check with each other before spending more than a certain dollar amount.
Pay your credit card bill more often than once per billing cycle to keep your credit utilization low. This also forces you to check in on your spending more regularly.
You forget whose turn it was to pay the bill
You thought your partner took care of the pesky task of paying the credit card bill this month … until you got hit with a late fee. Turns out they thought you were going to take care of it.
Slip-ups happen, but these sorts of miscommunications could mean subsequent late fees, penalty APRs or potential dings to your credit scores.
Call your credit card issuer and ask whether you can get the late fee waived. If you're a longtime, reliable customer, you may have luck. Many cards offer relief from the first late payment as a feature. You can also look into a card that never charges late fees, like the Citi Simplicity® Card.
Assign responsibility for paying the bill to one of you instead of rotating each month, though you should both know how to access your account online and pay the bills just in case.
Set up an alert to text or email you a few days before the bill is due.
Set up automatic credit card payments, but make sure you have the funds in your bank account to cover your bill each month.
You disagree about how to use your credit card rewards
You want cash back, but your significant other wants miles. Or your partner wants to redeem points frequently, while you want to save them up to pay for something expensive. What do you do when you can’t see eye to eye when it comes to your credit card rewards?
Before either of you applies for or redeems anything, have a conversation. What purpose does a card with rewards serve in both of your minds? When you set goals you can both agree on — like saving up for travel, cashing in points to buy holiday gifts, or using cash back to offset spending — you can approach rewards redemptions as a team.
Pick a card with lots of redemption options, like cash back, travel and gift cards. This will give you some flexibility.
Choose different cards for different expenses. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending per year (then 1%). Terms apply (see rates and fees). Use that in tandem with a more travel-focused rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which earns 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, as well as elevated rewards in other popular categories. That way, you can save on everyday expenses and start building up a travel fund simultaneously.
And if you just can’t agree? Then maybe that means separate cards for the two of you, if you can both keep track.
Harmony at home might be worth it.
To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page.