Dear Credit Score Report,

If I add my son as an authorized user and the card company does not take his Social Security number -- just his name -- how does my good account get reported on his credit report to all three bureaus so it will help his credit rating?

 -Linda 

Hey Linda,

The bank may only need your son's name to make him an authorized user, but the credit bureaus require more information if they're going to include that shared account on his credit reports. To be sure your account helps his credit, you'll need to check with the bank -- and he'll need to review his credit reports.

As an authorized user, your son's credit reports may include the positive borrowing history from that shared card account, which can help his credit score.  (The FICO score includes authorized user accounts, but not all scoring models do.) However, there's no guarantee that his credit reports will list that account.

Why is that? First, it's up to individual banks to choose whether to report authorized account information to the credit bureaus. "While most do, lenders decide whether to report authorized user accounts based on their own policies," says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian. Call your bank directly to find out about its policy. Second, even if the bank does report, it's possible an error somewhere along the way could prevent the account from showing up on his reports. That's more likely if the bank only provides your son's name, since more personal information makes mistakes less likely.

The more information your bank supplies, the better for the bureaus. According to Griffin, the bureaus rely on a borrower's name, address, previous addresses, birthday, Social Security number and any other identifying information supplied by the lender. "Experian utilizes every piece of identifying information provided to help ensure the individual is matched correctly to their credit history," he says.  At a minimum, Griffin says bureaus need a full name and address -- which, in this case, may be the same address the bank already has on file for you -- to list authorized account information on credit reports. "However, we strongly encourage people to provide full identifying information in their application, including their Social Security number, because it helps ensure we provide an accurate, complete credit history," he says. While you can't control what information the bank supplies to the credit bureaus, your son can make sure that account appears on his credit reports.

As for the other bureaus' policies, TransUnion said its "complex series of matching algorithms" employs various ID data items available, but that's all it would reveal. "TransUnion does not make its match logic public, because to do so could encourage identity thieves to attempt to manipulate the system," says spokesman Dave Blumberg. Equifax, meanwhile, didn't respond to my request for input.  

That means I'm giving you and your son a homework assignment, Linda. You need to call your bank (using the customer service number listed on the back of your credit card and your monthly statement) and ask whether it reports your shared account information to the bureaus for inclusion on your son's credit reports. If they don't, see if any of your other existing card issuers do report -- or, after calling around to check with other issuers, you can open a new account with a bank that does share that information.

Then, add your son as an authorized user. After a month, your son should request his credit reports. That way, he can make sure each of the three bureaus lists that shared card on his credit history. If they don't, let both the bank and bureaus know about the problem.

By making sure your son's reports include that account, you can be assured that he'll be getting a head start on building good credit.

Good luck!

-Jeremy

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