How do credit cards for couples work?

There are three options for couples who want the same credit card:

  • Add one partner as an authorized user on the other’s credit card
  • Open the same credit card separately
  • Open a joint credit card account

All three work differently, and they each have their pros and cons. Here’s a closer look at your options so you can decide on the right one for you.

1. Add a partner as an authorized user

In this method, one person is the primary cardholder. They add their partner as an authorized user, meaning the partner receives their own card tied to the same account. Both of them can make charges using their cards, but the primary cardholder is responsible for paying the bill.

There’s usually no extra authorized user fee if you have a no annual fee card. If the credit card has an annual fee, then there may also be a fee for adding authorized users.

The authorized user’s card will have some or all of the same benefits as the original credit card. You can ask your credit card issuer to find out exactly what authorized users get.

If you and your partner want to share a credit card account, this is a smart way to do it. It’s also a good option if one partner has a lower credit score than the other. You can add someone as an authorized user even if their credit normally wouldn’t be enough to qualify for the card on their own. Being an authorized user can also help that person build credit fast if the primary cardholder pays the bill on time.

2. Open the same credit card separately

Another option is for both partners to get the same credit card on their own. This keeps finances separate, and it’s a popular choice for couples who want to maximize credit card rewards.

Here’s why — when you and your partner open a credit card separately, you can both earn sign-up bonus offers. These introductory bonuses, also called a welcome bonus, include a large amount of cash back or points, and they’re one of the most valuable credit card features. By opening your own cards, you get two bonuses instead of one.

Sign-up bonuses are only available when opening a card, not when you add an authorized user. So, from a rewards perspective, it’s normally better for couples to open cards separately so each of them gets a welcome bonus.

However, each partner will need a high enough credit score to qualify for the card on their own. If the card has an annual fee, you’ll both need to pay it since you each have a separate card membership. That annual fee will likely cost more than any authorized user fee.

Although partners also need sufficient income to qualify for the credit card, you’re allowed to use total household income on a credit card application. So even if one partner has a much lower income than the other, you could both qualify by using household income.

3. Open a joint credit card account

A joint credit card account is when two people apply for a credit card together. Both cardholders receive their own cards and are fully responsible for the account.

Joint credit card accounts have become much harder to open in recent years. Most of the major credit card companies don’t offer them anymore. If you’re looking for an easy option, you’re likely better off going the authorized user route.

If you and your partner really want a joint account for your credit card, you’ll need to contact different card issuers to see which ones allow it. Try smaller banks and credit unions first, since they’re more likely to have this option available.

How to choose the best credit card for couples

The most important factors to choose the best credit cards for couples are rewards and fees. Here’s a quick guide to both.

Rewards

For many couples, the biggest benefit of getting the same credit card is earning rewards together. When you have the same card, you can earn the same amount on all your combined purchases.

The two best types of rewards credit cards are:

  • Cash back credit cards: These earn cash rewards. You can usually redeem these as a statement credit on your credit card bill, a direct deposit to your bank account, or as a check in the mail
  • Travel credit cards: These earn credit card points or miles that you can use to pay for travel purchases. With travel rewards cards, redemption options depend on the rewards program, be sure to learn how it works before you open the card.

If you and your partner want to earn rewards together, start by deciding which type of rewards credit card you want. Next, compare credit cards using their rewards rates. Look for a rewards card that offers a high rate, such as 1.5% or 2% back, on your purchases — or one that earns a higher rate in bonus categories where you spend a lot of money.

Fees

Credit cards may have an annual fee and an authorized user fee. If one partner is going to be an authorized user, then you’ll pay one annual fee and one authorized user fee. If you’re getting the same card separately, then you’ll pay two annual fees.

You don’t need to pay either of these fees to have a credit card. There are no annual fee credit cards, and these allow you to add an authorized user free of charge.

Cards with annual fees typically offer more benefits, which can make them a better deal for some consumers. If you and your partner have high spending or will use a card’s benefits often, then that could make an annual fee worth it.

Other credit card fees to consider are:

  • Foreign transaction fee: If one or both of you plan to travel internationally, a card with no foreign transaction fee is important so those travel purchases don’t cost extra.
  • Balance transfer fee: This is a fee for a balance transfer, charged on the credit card receiving the transfer. It’s only relevant if you’re looking for balance transfer cards to refinance credit card debt.
  • APR: This is the interest rate a card charges. You and your partner can avoid interest charges by paying your credit card bill in full every month. This is recommended because even a good APR for a credit card will likely be on the high side. If you think you’ll need time to pay off purchases, look at 0% intro APR credit cards.

How many credit cards is too many?

You have too many credit cards if you’re not able to manage all of them or if you’re not getting your money’s worth on their fees. That rule applies for all consumers, including couples who have credit cards together.

Now, the right number of credit cards is different for everyone. Some couples are better off with one, or at most two, credit cards. Rewards enthusiasts, on the other hand, may successfully manage three, four, or even more cards and get their money’s worth from all of them.

There are advantages to combining multiple top credit cards. You can collect more sign-up bonus offers, have more card benefits, and earn bonus points in more categories.

The drawback is that it’s more complicated. You have more payments to manage, potentially more annual fees, and you need to remember which rewards credit card earns the most bonus points on each type of purchase. That’s not always easy, especially if one partner is more interested in credit card rewards than the other.

The best approach is to err on the side of caution. If you want to use multiple credit cards, don’t open them all at once. Add them gradually, and make sure both you and your partner are comfortable with your credit card setup.