A joint credit card provides you and a friend or loved one with a way to pool your financial obligations. Unlike individual credit card accounts, a joint credit card account legally belongs to more than one person. Each cardholder possesses his own card and can make purchases against the account. Your marital status – or lack thereof – doesn't impact your ability to qualify for a joint credit card.
Unmarried Card Holders
Joint credit cards are primarily used by married couples, but credit card companies also offer these accounts to unmarried applicants. Children caring for aging relatives who need access to joint resources, couples in committed relationships who pool their finances or parents helping their adult children build credit can all apply for and receive joint credit cards. Your credit card provider may ask questions about your marital status on the application, but it cannot deny your application merely because you and your co-applicant are unmarried. Doing so is a form of discrimination.
Although a credit card company can't refuse to issue you and your co-applicant a joint credit card account simply because you're unmarried, it can refuse you on other grounds. Both you and your co-applicant must meet the credit card provider's eligibility requirements before it will approve your application. All credit card companies' eligibility criteria differ but, in general, the credit card company wants to see that both of you have decent credit histories and the income necessary to repay the debt.
When you and your co-applicant charge purchases to a joint credit card, the creditor holds both of you responsible for the debt regardless of who actually made the purchases. For married couples who share most financial obligations anyway, this generally isn't a problem. It could be an issue, however, for unmarried individuals – especially those who don't live in the same household. Drawing up rules governing who uses the account, when and for what purpose helps prevent problems later on.
Authorized User Accounts
If you're hesitant to open up a joint credit card with a loved one -- perhaps because of a checkered financial past or inability to stick to a budget -- consider opening an individual account and adding your loved one as an authorized user. Authorized users can make purchases, but they aren't liable for the debt. The benefit of this arrangement is, if your friend or family member abuses the privilege, you can remove him as an authorized user at any time. If you opt for a joint credit card, however, you may not be able to close the account if it carries an outstanding balance – making it tricky to escape the financial fallout if your co-applicant makes frequent purchases.
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.