If you can't get a credit card on your own, perhaps due to your own bad credit, you may be able to enjoy the benefits of a card as an authorized user. Anyone with a credit card in good standing can appoint you to be an authorized user of his account. You'll usually get your own credit card, in your own name, but the account number will be the same as the original owner's.
The legal responsibility for repayment of a credit card lies with the original account owner. As an authorized user, you have the permission of the account owner to use the card, but the credit card issuer doesn't consider you liable for repayment on the account. At the time the account was opened, the creditor issued a contract to the owner, rendering him liable for all charges. This does not change with the addition of an authorized user. Even if you agree with the owner that you will pay all the charges on the account, if you fail to pay, the creditor will come after the owner, not you.
Your Credit Report
While you may not be liable for the charges on an authorized user account, your actions cannot escape all consequences. Most creditors will report you as an authorized user on an account to the credit reporting agencies. If you don't make your payments on the account, your credit score will suffer. Even if the original owner agreed to make all payments and charges, if he fails to pay, your credit will take a hit. If your credit was already so bad that you couldn't get an account on your own, further damage will likely prevent you from getting your own credit for years to come.
Original Account Owner
Someone who extends his account to you as an authorized user is doing you a favor. If you don't pay your credit card charges, he will have to cover your payments out of his own pocket. If he anticipates that you are going to pay for your charges, he might not be in the financial position to cover your payments. If payments are missed, you're not the only one who suffers the credit damage, since the account will also appear on the original owner's credit report. While you may not be legally responsible for repayment, you certainly have an ethical responsibility to protect the original owner's credit report and bank account.
You might feel like you share an account as an authorized user, but having a joint account carries completely different responsibilities. As a true joint owner, you would share the legal obligation of repayment with the original owner. As a joint owner, you cannot be kicked off the account without your permission; as an authorized user, you are only attached to the account by the good graces of the account owner.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA, John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served 18 years as an investment adviser. Csiszar has served as a technical writer for various financial firms and has extensive experience writing for online publications.