To build credit, you need credit. Frustrating, right? But there’s a simple way to do it that doesn’t require any credit card applications: You could become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account.
As an authorized user, you can get your own credit card that’s associated with the primary cardholder’s line of credit. And while you’ll be able to use the credit card to make purchases, the primary cardholder — typically a friend, family member or partner — will be responsible for making the monthly payments.
So how does being an authorized user affect your own credit score? That depends on the primary cardholder’s credit behavior as well as how you use your credit card.
What is an authorized user?
When you’re an authorized user on a credit card account, you’re essentially piggybacking on another person’s line of credit. You may receive a card in your name to make purchases, but it’s up to the primary account holder to make on-time payments against the total balance.
Though you aren’t legally liable for payments as an authorized user, you should discuss a plan with the main cardholder to avoid confusion over the credit card bill. Being part of the payment process can help you practice responsible credit habits.
How being an authorized user affects your credit score
How much becoming an authorized user can help or hurt your credit score depends on several factors, including the primary account holder’s credit behavior and your own credit history.
In general, a primary account holder who makes on-time payments can help you as an authorized user. However, if the account holder is late or misses payments, it could hurt your score.
Building a new credit history
If you are new to credit — such as a teen or young adult who is added to a parent’s account — and the primary account holder has a long history of on-time payments, you’re likely to benefit the most from being an authorized user. Because you don’t have any credit history, the on-time payments can heavily influence your score.
There’s one caveat: The card issuer must report the account to the three major credit bureaus for the data from your authorized user account to affect your credit score. Not all issuers report credit activity on behalf of an authorized user, and some only do if the user is above a certain age. For example, you can add an authorized user as young as 13 on an American Express card, but no activity will be reported until they turn 18. Check with the card issuer to confirm whether it will report your data before becoming an authorized user.
Rebuilding a credit score
If you’re starting with a poor or “bad” credit score, being added to the account of someone with a stellar credit history may not help much. It will be one positive mark amid a history of late payments, bankruptcy, defaults or other signs of poor credit management.
However, if your credit score is fair, with only a few late payments bringing down your score, being added to the account of someone with a flawless payment history could help you rebuild your credit over time.
If both you and the primary account holder manage the account responsibly — by not using too much credit and paying off the balance on time every month — your credit score will likely go up.
How to become an authorized user
Though each issuer may have a different process for adding an authorized user, in most cases, the primary cardholder can do it online or through the bank’s mobile app. They can also call their bank using the customer service number on the back of their card. To start the process, the account holder will need to provide the authorized user’s full name, date of birth and Social Security number.
You must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card independently, but the minimum age requirements to be an authorized user vary. Some issuers require you to be at least 18, while others have a lower age requirement or no minimum at all.
How to add someone as an authorized user
If you’re the primary account holder and want to make someone an authorized user, you can contact your credit card issuer to add them to your account. You don’t necessarily need to give an authorized user a card, which can be helpful if there’s any question about whether the user can manage a credit card responsibly.
If you are giving the authorized user their own card, you should agree on how they can use the card, including spending limits and other parameters. Today’s credit card apps allow you to receive notifications whenever a credit card is used, which can help you track an authorized user’s spending. However, you’ll still be responsible for paying the balance as the primary account holder. If you want to help a teenager establish credit by making them an authorized user on your account, confirm their age eligibility with your issuer.
The risks of being an authorized user
There’s minimal risk in becoming an authorized user if the primary cardholder pays the account balance before the monthly due date. However, remember that your credit score could be negatively impacted if the primary cardholder racks up a balance and fails to make payments.
Some credit bureaus include the primary cardholder’s negative information on an authorized user’s credit report, but some do not. Of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion include the primary cardholder’s negative information, but Experian does not.
The primary account holder takes on the most risk in this scenario because they’re responsible for making payments to cover the authorized user’s purchases. If you’re asking someone to make you an authorized user, ensure that you’re on the same page regarding spending limits, card usage and payment schedules.
Alternatives to being an authorized user
If there isn’t a friend or relative you can ask to become an authorized user — or you don’t feel comfortable asking them — there are other ways to build your credit. Some options include:
- Pay down your debt. If your credit score is low because the balance on your current credit cards is high, work on paying off your credit card debt before becoming an authorized user. Lowering your credit utilization ratio can help raise your credit score quickly.
- Apply for a secured credit card. If you don’t have a credit history, you can start with a secured credit card. You’ll have to pay a deposit up front, but you can build your credit on your own by responsibly managing the card. Most secured cards use your deposit as your credit limit.
- Add your bills to your credit report. Typically, on-time payments for bills such as your utilities or rent don’t appear on your credit report, but you can request that they be added to improve your on-time payment history. Two of the major credit reporting bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, offer bill-reporting services.
- Apply for a credit-builder loan. Credit-builder loans are kind of like traditional loans in reverse: Instead of getting the money upfront and paying it back in monthly installments, with a credit-builder loan, you make monthly payments then get access to the funds at the end of the loan term. Each on-time payment is reported to the credit bureaus, which can help boost your credit score. Credit-builder loans typically charge interest, so it’s important to shop around for the lowest rates.
Editors’ note: An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.
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