On the surface, it may seem like there's little difference between a joint account user and an authorized user. Both joint users and authorized users typically have their own individual credit cards -- and both have the authority to make charges. However, when it comes to liability and credit reporting for these two types of cardholders, there are differences. Also, to create a joint account, users must apply for the account together, whereas, you can simply add an authorized user to an existing account.
While both authorized users and joint account owners have the right to make charges on an account, only a joint account owner has the legal responsibility for repayment of the debt. Even if the authorized user is the only one making charges on an account, the owner or joint owners are the ones legally bound to pay them. For this reason, some owners grant only a limited amount of credit to an authorized user.
Joint account owners as well as authorized users will see credit accounts appear on their credit reports. The credit report will indicate whether the user is a primary account owner or an authorized user. This reporting can be particularly helpful for authorized users who are otherwise unable to get their own credit, as developing a credit history is an important part of obtaining future credit.
Joint account owners can see their credit scores improve from responsible use of a credit account. Becoming a joint account user is a good way to increase your credit score. The FICO credit scoring model assigns 35 percent of a FICO score to payment history, 30 percent to the amount owed, 15 percent to the length of credit history, 10 percent to the types of credit used and the remaining 10 percent to the acquisition of new credit. For an authorized user, the performance of the account will appear on his credit report, but it won't necessarily factor into all his credit score calculations, according to Experian.
A person with a strong credit history takes on a risk both when opening a joint account and when adding an authorized user to an existing account. Opening a joint account may carry less risk, as the credit card company will look at the past credit history of the joint account user -- who can usually qualify for his own credit. On the other hand, an authorized user may have bad credit or no real credit history, which can be risky business. However, the possible negative effects work both ways. Any irresponsible borrowing behavior on the part of the owner or joint owners, such as failure to make timely payments, can affect the credit of the authorized user.
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.