Should I get a joint credit card with my partner?

Joint credit cards mean both partners are responsible for payments. But is a joint credit card right for you?  (iStock)

Managing money with a partner can be fraught with challenges. One option some couples consider is applying together for credit.

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When a couple opens a joint credit card, the card issuer considers both their credentials in deciding whether to approve them. And both partners share ownership of -- and legal responsibility for -- the card. This is very different from when one partner is the primary cardholder and adds the other as an authorized signer who can use the card but who has no formal legal obligation to pay the bills.

If you're considering opening a joint card with your other half, there are a few things you should think about before moving forward.

Are joint credit cards a good idea?

Joint credit cards can make sense if you trust your partner and are both committed to responsible spending and prompt repayment. Some of the benefits include the following:

  • A joint card makes money management easier. If you and your partner share other expenses or have a joint bank account, it may make little sense to have a separate credit card as this means two bills to pay and a choice to make about which card to pay off first if both can't be paid in full.
  • Qualifying for a joint card may be easier. The card issuer evaluates the financial situation of both partners opening a joint credit card. Since your combined income is likely higher and the card issuer has two people promising to pay, creditors may be more willing to give you a card or to extend a higher credit line. If one partner might have a hard time getting credit because of a low credit score, applying jointly with a partner could be key to make approval possible.
  • A joint card could boost a partner's lower credit scoreIf one partner has a lower credit score or has no credit history, getting approved for a joint card – and using it responsibly – could be a major boon.
  • Both partners share legal responsibility for payments. If you add a partner as an authorized user, they can use the card but aren't responsible to the creditor for repaying the debt. As the primary cardholder, you're at risk of getting stuck with the entire bill. This can't happen when you have a joint card.

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There are also some serious downsides to a joint card:

  • Both partners have a legal right to use the card. While you could remove your partner as an authorized signer, you can't remove a co-borrower from a joint card. Your partner could legally use the card to run up the bill and you'd share responsibility for repayment.
  • A breakup could lead to big problems. Your partner could use the card to hurt you financially by charging a fortune that you have to pay back. You'd likely also have to close the card since you can't usually just remove a co-borrower – and closing accounts could hurt your credit score.
  • Not all card issuers offer joint cards. You'll have fewer choices for which cards to apply for if you want a joint card with your partner. 

How to get a joint credit card

If you want a joint card with your partner, you'll first have to find a card issuer that allows you to apply for a card together as co-applicants. While some issuers, such as PNC Bank, allow this, many other popular credit cards don't let you apply with a partner.

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Once you've found a creditor that allows you to submit an application together, you'll need to provide some basic details for both partners including:

  • Your names
  • Social Security numbers for both partners
  • Addresses for both partners
  • Employment status and income information for both partners

You'll likely be asked some questions to verify your identity. If you aren't confident you'll know your partner's answers, make sure you're both available so you can complete the application together.

Who's responsible for the payments?

The key feature of a joint credit card is that both partners are equally responsible for paying the bill. That means your credit score will take a hit and you could face collection activities if your partner gets into debt and doesn't pay.

In fact, even if you divorce and your divorce decree says your ex-spouse is solely responsible for repayment, the creditor could ding your credit and pursue a claim against you to recover the funds if your ex doesn't follow through.

Think carefully before getting a joint credit card

Sharing a credit card is very different than sharing a debit card, as credit cards make going into debt possible. Before you get a joint card with a partner, be sure you're both on the same page about borrowing responsibly and paying off the bills together. The law says you're both responsible for the card, so don't make that kind of commitment unless you know your partner will do their part.