The benefits and costs of having a joint credit card account
WKBK-TV (FOX/Detroit)

10 June 2013

The economy is doing better but many people are still struggling to make ends meet. Recent grads that can't find work, lower salaries and the fall out from the recession leading to poor credit has many people sharing credit card accounts.

There are things to be aware of in this scenario and David Flores from GreenPath Financial Wellness offers some advice on this edition of Money Monday with Murray Feldman.

FLORES: If you're looking to share an account, there are four basic options.

1. Two people can become joint applicants. In this type of agreement, each applicant has charging privileges and each is equally liable for all of the debt, says Nessa Feddis, a spokeswoman with the American Bankers Association. If you have this type of agreement, you could be held accountable for charges even if the other person made them.  "You often see this in divorce where you have a joint account and one person ran up the bill, but they're both liable," Feddis says.

2. You can co-sign on an account for another person. In this type of agreement, the co-signer agrees to pay the balance on the account if the other person defaults. Typically, as a co-signer, you don't have charging privileges on the account, Feddis says. Your job is simply to take over the bill if the other person does not pay.

3. You can become a guarantor for another person. This type of agreement is similar to a co-signing agreement in that you agree to take over the debt if the other person does not pay. As with co-signing agreements, the guarantor does not get charging privileges on the account. But there is also a slight difference when it comes to liability, Feddis says.

A bank must take more steps to get a guarantor to pay the debt than a co-signer. While the lender can come after the co-signer for the debt practically as soon as the bill is overdue, "The guarantor doesn't become liable until the bank has exhausted all other means of collection from the original borrowers," Feddis says.

4. You can add an authorized user to your account. Generally speaking, an authorized user has charging privileges on the account but in the lender's eyes, the original cardholder is responsible for the entire debt. However, in some states, authorized users may be legally held responsible for their charges on the account.

There are exceptions to these general rules, as different lenders have their own definitions for the different types of agreements. At Bank of America, for example, the terms co-signer and joint account holder are interchangeable, in that both describe a relationship where the two applicants have charging privileges and liability on the account, says spokeswoman Betty Rises. Also, all lenders don't offer all options. Joint account and authorized user agreements are the options most frequently available. The ability to co-sign or become a guarantor on an account is not as common.

Ending the agreement
Just because you decide to share an account with someone today doesn't mean you'll want to share an account with them tomorrow. But depending upon the type of account you have, parting ways may be more difficult than you think.
Authorized users are relatively easy to take off of an account.

Since the lender considers you liable for the entire debt regardless of who makes the charges, you can simply let the bank know that you want to take an authorized user off of the account and it will be done. However, for safety purposes, "If the account owner doesn't feel they could confirm that the previous authorized user will discontinue using the card, we would recommend they close the account and request a new card be issued with a new account number," suggests Natalie Brown, a spokeswoman with Wells Fargo. In that situation, the account owner would not have to go through a new application process, Brown adds.
Ending a co-signing, guarantor or joint account holder relationship is not so simple. You can't just kick someone off the account; you have to close the account entirely and both parties must re-apply for credit in their own name and on their own merit. If there's a balance, liability must be determined, and the lender may not let you terminate the agreement until the balance is paid in full.

Before agreeing to any shared credit card account, "make sure you know what you're getting into and how difficult or easy it is going to be for you to get out of that relationship," says Flores.  "In many cases, it's probably not very easy."