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My girlfriend and I are currently restructuring our finances to simplify our financial relationship and to discourage frivolous spending habits such as eating out.

We have shared access to a joint checking account, where we each contribute the same amount every month to pay for shared expenses such as rent, utilities, and groceries.

We are looking to get a credit card for that account for several reasons:

  1. Financial reconciliation will be much easier: we know how much we contribute to the joint checking account each month, we know what we both pay in fixed expenses (ex: rent), and the remainder would be used to pay off the credit card.
  2. We don't trust debit cards for online transactions
  3. The extra credit could come in handy in case of an emergency
  4. It will discourage us from moral hazard. For example, if we choose to eat out, the meal could cost $40. Usually we agree to split the costs, but that has the effect where the person who pays only feels like they're paying $20, so it's no big deal, and the person who isn't paying doesn't perceive the transaction having come from their wallet, so both of us feel like we spent less and have more money than we do. With a joint credit card, it will be easier to separate groceries from takeout, and give us a more accurate financial picture for both of us.

Here's the problem: while my credit is excellent (mid 700s), hers is not so great (low-to-mid 600s). We are both financially responsible and neither one of us has trouble paying the bills. Her current debt primarily comes from when she was between jobs as a college student - long before we met - and does not reflect her spending patterns today.

We want to be able to get two cards (related: is it difficult to ask the credit card issuer for two cards, even if the account belongs to one person?) with the best credit limits and perks.

Would it be better for me to apply for the card on my own, or would there be an advantage to having her co-sign?

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    You may want to consider using some free financial tracking services like Mint that lets you link your credit card and then easily see what types of purchases you are making in aggregate. – David Grinberg Feb 15 '17 at 20:05
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    If your goal is to just split costs easily then apply on your own and make her an authorized user. If your goal is also to improve her credit then co-signing is the correct route. Also, consider expenses which you'll share but the benefits might be one-sided such as if her commute to work is double what yours is then she will only be responsible for a portion of the cost and you pick up the rest. It is not uncommon to each have your own finances for frivolous expenses because drawing the line down the exact center is harder than you might think. – MonkeyZeus Feb 15 '17 at 20:49
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    It's usually advisable to keep your finances as separate as possible before marriage (and it's even questionable after). Breaking up is always rough, now imagine the difficulty in sorting out your finances too. – SnakeDoc Feb 15 '17 at 22:23
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    Get seperate cards. – Matthew Whited Feb 15 '17 at 22:29
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    Tagged as 'united-states' since in some locations (the UK at least) there's no such thing as a joint credit card - only additional card holders who don't have the same legal obligations as the account holder. – Joe Lee-Moyet Feb 16 '17 at 11:52
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We want to be able to get two cards (related: is it difficult to ask the credit card issuer for two cards, even if the account belongs to one person?) with the best credit limits and perks.

No, it's actually quite common to have authorized users on your account. They typically get a separate card with their name on it, but it's attached to your account and may or may not have the same number.

Would it be better for me to apply for the card on my own, or would there be an advantage to having her co-sign?

Probably faster/easier to just apply yourself and add her an an authorized user. I know some issuers even offer additional sign up bonuses for adding an authorized user.

As an afterthought, as her credit improves she can apply for the card and add you as an authorized user to again reap some more signup bonuses.

  • My personal advice is not to go with the Authorized User option, simply because an Authorized User is not necessarily responsible for charges. In the event of a bad breakup, this can cause damage and headaches to your credit. Her being on the account doesn't prevent this either, but at least she is also responsible for the charges. – Marshall Tigerus Feb 17 '17 at 17:31
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Since your credit score is much better than hers, you should apply for the credit card yourself alone to get the best chance of approval for your card of choice.

Once you have the card, you can add her as an authorized user, which will get her a card of her own, tied to your account. Most banks will begin reporting to both of your credit reports, which should help her credit score over time.

Keep in mind that you are solely legally responsible for the debt; your girlfriend will be able to make charges and will have no legal responsibility for the debt. Make sure you are comfortable with that.

For what it is worth, in general, I recommend against combining your finances with someone who you are not married to, but it seems that you have already done that, so adding a shared credit card to your finances shouldn't be any worse than what you are already doing.

  • Actually, I think she will be legally responsible for the debt (if that is what the couple agree). The point though is the that CC company will sue the OP, it is then up to the OP to sue his (presumably ex-) girlfriend if he wants the money back. – Martin Bonner Feb 16 '17 at 10:25
  • @MartinBonner - it may depend on your state. I know that when I added my sister years ago as an authorized user on my card (no longer the case), she was not legally responsible for the debt incurred, as the account was in my name alone. (states involved: NY & NC) – warren Feb 16 '17 at 20:24
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    @warren : Legally responsible to whom? I bet you could have sued her for any accrued debt - just the credit card company couldn't. – Martin Bonner Feb 17 '17 at 6:17
  • @MartinBonner :: the credit card company viewed me as the only responsible party. Never had an issue while the arrangement lasted: but I suppose I could have filed suit against her had the need arisen. – warren Feb 17 '17 at 6:52
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Is it difficult to ask the credit card issuer for two cards, even if the account belongs to one person? You can most definitely get two cards for one account. People do it all the time. You just have to add her on as an authorized user.

Would it be better for me to apply for the card on my own, or would there be an advantage to having her co-sign? It depends. If she co-signed, then that means she is also responsible for the credit card payments - which can help her credit score. If its is just you applying, then you are the only one responsible. If you don't want her lower credit score to impact what you could be approved for, then only you should apply. However, if you are the sole account holder, then you are responsible for the payments, which means, if in the event you guys break up and she maxes out the card before you cancel it, then you are on the hook for what she spend.

As for improving her credit score, I do know that some banks report to the credit bureaus for the authorized user as well, so that could help her out too.

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    Is it not true that a co-signed debt is fully the responsibility of both signers? It doesn't get divvied up - the bank can go after either one for the full debt. – stannius Feb 15 '17 at 21:08
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    @stannius Yes you are correct. They can go after one or the other. – Michael Feb 15 '17 at 23:53
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As anecdotal experience, we have a credit account in my name as offered by bank's marketing before I could qualify by common rules for newcomers (I have an account there for years so they knew my history and reliability dynamics I guess), and my wife is subscribed as a secondary user to the same credit account with a separate card.

So we share the same limits (e.g. max month usage/overdraft) and benefits (bank's discounts and bonuses when usage passes certain thresholds - and it's easier to gain these points together than alone) so in the end maintenance of the card costs zero or close to that on most months, while the card is in a program to get discounts from hundreds of shops and even offers a free or discounted airport lounge access in some places :) But the bonus program is just that - benefits come and go as global economics changes; e.g. we had free car assistance available for a couple of years but it is gone since last tariff update. Generally it is beneficial for us to do all transactions including rent etc. via these two credit cards to the same account, and then recharge its overdraft as salaries come in - we have an "up to 50 days" cooloff period (till 20th of next calendar month) with no penalties on having taken the loans - but if we ever did overstretch that, then tens of yearly percents would kick in.

Using the card(s) for daily ops, there is a play on building up the credit history as well: while we don't really need the loans to get from month to month, it helps build an image in the face of credit organizations, which can help secure e.g. favorable mortgage rates (and other contract conditions) which are out of pocket money range :) I'd say it is not only a "we against the system" sort of game though, as it sort of trains our own financial discipline - every month we have (a chance) to go over our spendings to see what we did, and so we more regularly think about it in the end - so the bank probably benefits from dealing with more-educated less-random customers when it comes to the bigger loans.

Regarding internet, we tend to trust more to a debit card which we populate with pocket money sufficient for upcoming or already placed (blocked) transactions. After all, a malicious shop can not sip off thousands of credit money - but only as much as you've pre-allocated there on debit.

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