Dear Opening Credits,
I am getting married in July. What credit card is the right one for married couples? I do not have a credit card, but my boyfriend does, so should I be on his card or should we get one together? – Val
There are quite a few credit cards that can work beautifully for married couples when trying to earn points and rewards. However, without a card of your own, I encourage you to focus on building your credit profile.
Be aware that not all credit card issuers let people share card ownership. Jointly held credit cards, in which two people open a single account and are equally responsible for it, are rare these days. It is more common now for one spouse to open an account and then add the other to the card as an authorized user.
Become an authorized user on his card
Since you don’t have a credit card in your name, it’s time to start building your own credit history. The easiest way to do that is by asking your spouse to add you to his credit card account.
When the account owner requests that someone be added as an authorized user, that person is issued a credit card imprinted with his or her name on it. The authorized user has the same charging privileges as the owner, but the account owner is the one on the hook for paying the credit card bill. The account will show up on both cardholders’ credit reports and be factored into your credit scores. As long as the credit card is properly managed, it’s a convenient way for a credit novice like yourself to build a credit history.
Sharing a credit card as an authorized user also has a nice advantage for couples. If the credit card has a generous rewards program, two chargers are better than one for increasing miles, points or cash back. In fact, some card issuers even give extra points for each authorized user added to the primary account.
The main difference between authorized users and joint account owners is that users do not have the same level of responsibility for payment. The primary owner of the account is 100 percent liable for all charges. However, because you will be living together, your financial goals and expenses will be combined, so making sure the account is paid on time and the balance stays low will be important to you both.
Ask your soon-to-be husband to see if his credit card account allows for authorized users. Chances are it will, and if so, discuss adding you as an authorized user. Another option is for him to keep that account as his own, and then open a different credit card for you both with you as the authorized user.
Maintain some financial independence by getting your own card
Mind that marriage doesn’t mean that you should share everything. I’m a big believer in financial independence. An account owner and the authorized user have the right to end authorized user-ship any time, so if the relationship goes sour, you need to have your bases covered.
If you and your betrothed decided against adding you as an authorized user to his card, another way to start out in the world of credit is with a secured card. If you have a job and some spare funds, you can probably qualify for a secured card. The money you put down (which can be as low as a couple of hundred dollars) will be held in deposit, and the credit line usually matches that sum.
Use your secured card to make at least a few regular, affordable purchases. Since credit scores (such as FICO and VantageScore) rank payment history and credit utilization highly, pay by the due date and always in full. Do so and you’ll develop a wonderful credit score all on your own. Depending on the issuer, you may even be able to get your security deposit released after a period of time, turning your secured card into an unsecured credit card. Then as you continue to pay on time and keep the balance low, your credit limit also might increase.
Ideally, both you and your husband will have a personal credit card as well as your “couple” card. If you become an authorized user, commit to being involved in the account’s management. Communicate with your husband about charging rules and habits. Get together and review the statements regularly to make sure payments are being made and balances don’t get too high.