When used wisely, a joint credit card may be key to helping your family achieve its financial goals. Depending on how the card is set up, you may be able to share your credit limit or improve a family member’s credit score. However, joint credit cards can lead to headaches, too: depending on your legal obligations, you may find yourself responsible for others’ debts. As a result, it is very important to understand the different types of joint credit cards and their implications on users.

The basics of joint credit cards

The idea behind a joint credit card is simple: multiple borrowers are authorized to make purchases on the same credit account. There are a couple of different ways that this can happen. 

The most straightforward option is for the primary cardholder to register for a card on their own, then add another person to the account as an authorized user. This allows the primary cardholder to retain sole ownership of the account. However, this also means that the authorized user’s credit profile is not affected by the card.

If both intended users wish to be listed on the account as equals, some credit cards accept applications from co-borrowers. This strategy can provide secondary cardholders with a greater degree of benefits than they would receive as an authorized user. However, it also leaves them responsible for any debts posted to the account.

Much like solo credit cards, joint credit cards often come with perks and rewards. For example, the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard allows cardholders to rack up Air Miles points. Likewise, the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card offers cashback and the Scotiabank Scene+ Visa Card rewards users via Scene+ points. Primary and secondary cardholders are able to redeem credit card rewards, but authorized users generally cannot do so.

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Adding authorized users to your credit card

Many credit cards that are catered towards single applicants allow the primary cardholder to add authorized users to their account. The primary cardholder can then order supplemental credit cards for the authorized user’s use. It is important to keep in mind that many credit cards charge fees to issue supplemental cards.  If you are opening a new credit card with the intention of ordering a supplemental card, be sure to compare fees ahead of time. Also, keep in mind that all purchases made through the supplemental card will ultimately be posted to the main account. 

Adding a supplemental user to a credit card is an excellent way to increase the amount of credit that they have available. It can also allow you to pool credit card rewards (though generally only the primary cardholder can redeem them). However, the approach has some drawbacks, too.

Although supplemental users can make purchases, the credit card does not contribute towards their credit score. This means that they do not get credit if the account has a long history of responsible repayment. However, this can occasionally work in their favour. If the money is not repaid, the supplemental user’s credit score will not be penalized. 

It is worth noting that a supplemental cardholders’ lack of penalization can cause headaches for primary cardholders. Since the supplemental user is not penalized for a missed payment, they do not have any incentive to actually make payments. On the other hand, the primary cardholder is legally responsible for paying the credit card off in full. If the supplementary user decides not to make any payments (or spend a lot of money), the primary cardholder will have to pay a big bill. 

Applying for a joint credit card as co-borrowers

If both prospective borrowers would like to be listed equally on the credit card, their best option is to apply for a new credit card as co-borrowers. This would make both people equally liable for paying off the debt. Likewise, the card would impact both borrowers’ credit rating. They could also both redeem rewards and see the account’s full history.

When applying for a credit card as co-borrowers, it is important to note that some issuers will require you to identify a primary versus a secondary cardholder. The distinction is primarily made for administrative purposes. However, you should always carefully read a credit card’s terms and conditions before opening an account. This is especially true when opening a joint account. Be sure to clarify what your contractual obligations will be before signing any papers. 

Also, it is important to keep in mind that not all credit card issuers support applications from co-borrowers. Unfortunately though, it is not always easy to tell whether or not any given credit card will accept co-borrower applications.

FAQ about joint credit cards in Canada

What is a joint credit card?

Generally speaking, a joint credit card is a credit card that multiple users can access. It may be a credit card with multiple account owners, or a credit card with one primary cardholder and secondary authorized users. However, there is some ambiguity around the term and some sites use ‘joint credit card’ to specifically refer to either of the two options. 

How to get a joint credit card account in Canada?

If you would like to give a supplemental user access to your credit card, contact your card’s provider. Note that many credit cards charge a fee to add a supplemental user to your account. If you are still in the process of comparing cards, this is something to keep in mind.
If you would like to apply for a credit card as co-borrowers, you should note this in your application. Since many virtual application forms are designed under the assumption that the prospective borrower is applying on their own, you may have to apply in-person or via telephone. However, this will vary from issuer to issuer.

Can I freeze a joint credit card?

Generally speaking, joint credit cards can be frozen. However, since each individual credit card has slightly different policies, we highly recommend that you check the terms and conditions of your card for specifics. 

Do joint credit cards affect both credit scores?

Credit cards affect the credit scores of the official account owners. If a credit card is opened by two co-borrowers who both assume full responsibility of the debt, the card will affect both of their credit profiles. However, if someone is added to a credit account as a supplemental cardholder, they are not liable for the debt. As a result, it will not affect their credit score.

How do joint credit cards work?

Regardless of whether someone is a co-borrower or a supplemental user, they can make purchases on a credit card. However, those who are listed as supplemental users are not partial owners of the credit account. This means that they cannot access the primary credit card’s purchase history, redeem rewards, and are under no obligation to repay the debt. Their credit scores are not impacted, either. On the other hand, co-borrowers are partial owners of the credit account. As a result, they can be held responsible if the debt is not paid. Their credit score is also impacted by the credit card’s history. Additionally, they can see the account’s purchase history and redeem rewards.

What happens to a joint credit card when a spouse dies?

If the surviving spouse was listed as a co-borrower or a primary account holder, they will be obligated to repay all debts associated with the credit account. If the surviving spouse was listed as a supplemental cardholder on their late partner’s credit card account, they will not have to personally pay off the debt. However, if a person owes money when they die, the value of their estate is used to pay back creditors. As a result, the bill may have to be paid via shared assets (or assets that you expected to inherit).

Can you get a joint credit card without being married?

Yes, you can apply for a credit card with a co-borrower other than your spouse. Likewise, you do not have to be married to someone in order to list them as an authorized user on your credit card.

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