In irresponsible hands, your credit card can morph from a little piece of plastic into a weapon that threatens everything from your good credit rating to your financial stability. You don't have to share a joint account with your spouse to make purchases using the same credit card. Although you can give your spouse permission to use your credit card at any time, think long and hard before turning over your card. Keeping close tabs on your credit card – and its balance – is your responsibility. The only way to ensure that your account is 100 percent secure is to remain the only person who uses the card.
Credit Card Usage
You have the right to use your credit card as you see fit, provided you do so within the scope of your original agreement with your credit card company. This freedom of use includes allowing a third party, such as your spouse, to use the card when necessary. While it is legal for your spouse to use your credit card with your permission, you're on the hook for any charges your spouse makes. This is the case even if you give your spouse specific limitations, such as where he can use the card or how much he can spend, that he subsequently ignores.
If your spouse needs regular access to your credit card, you can contact your credit card company and add your spouse to your account as an authorized user. After you add your spouse to your account, your credit card company will send him a card of his own. Don't be fooled into thinking, however, that adding your spouse suddenly makes your credit card account a joint account. Because the account legally belongs to you and not your spouse, you are still responsible for paying off any debt he incurs.
Credit Card Misuse
Allowing your spouse to use your credit card, even just once, is a slippery slope. If your spouse later takes and uses your card without your permission, you may still be responsible for the charges he incurs – regardless of whether or not you were aware of his activities. While some courts have upheld that such behavior is clearly theft and constitutes misuse, other courts note that when you give your spouse permission to use your account, he has “apparent authority” to continue to make purchases with your credit card in the future.
If you allow your spouse to use your credit card, you probably trust him to make smart purchasing decisions. However, this very trust can leave you in financial hot water later on, as your spouse can use this trust to hurt your finances and damage your credit. For example, if you add your spouse to your account as an authorized user and you and your spouse later divorce, he can max out the credit card – leaving you treading water in a sea of debt. If you cannot pay off your spouse's purchases, your credit card provider will report your missed payments to the credit bureaus and your credit rating will take a nosedive. To make matters worse, credit card companies retain the right to sue nonpaying consumers. A lawsuit from your credit card provider can leave you facing a financial nightmare that consists of property liens, bank levies and garnished wages.
Ciele Edwards holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been a consumer advocate and credit specialist for more than 10 years. She currently works in the real-estate industry as a consumer credit and debt specialist. Edwards has experience working with collections, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, loans and credit law.