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Credit cards can be risky if used irresponsibly to rack up costly debt. But when used wisely and intentionally—especially as a couple working together with a shared goal—you can use them to your advantage, both in terms of collecting rewards faster and building better credit. Like the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work.
Most credit card issuers don't allow joint credit card accounts, but they do allow you to add an authorized user to your card. Use the following strategies with your partner to maximize credit cards, whether on the same account or separate ones.
Use Cards That Align With Your Lifestyle
Travel credit cards can come with huge perks, such as free lounge access and baggage. But if you and your partner don't fly often, these benefits may go to waste—and potentially even cost you if there's an annual fee.
Make sure the credit cards you apply for and use make sense for your spending habits and offer the most benefit. These might be cash back cards, which help with everyday spending, though ensure the bonus cash categories are also ones that will benefit you. Some cards offer double or triple points for gas, travel, dining out, groceries and other categories that might be useful for your spending habits.
Maximize Everyday Credit Card Use
One of the best ways to accumulate credit card rewards is to use your cards for everyday purchases, then pay off the balances quickly to avoid paying interest. If your credit card offers cash back, points or miles for every dollar spent, these rewards can add up quickly—especially if you and your partner are both spending on the same account with one of you as an authorized user. (Or you can do this separately with your own cards and divide and conquer.) Set your recurring bills on autopay with these cards, which both ensures your bills are paid on time and helps you earn rewards faster.
If your credit card has bonus categories, such as a higher cash back percentage for grocery purchases or a larger points multiplier for dining out, make sure you and your partner use that card for those purchases.
Take Advantage of Authorized-User Bonuses
While some credit card issuers charge a fee to add authorized users, others encourage it by offering a one-time reward to add an authorized user to your account. Not all issuers do this, but if you have an individual credit card account and the issuer offers this bonus, it could be worth adding your significant other for some free air miles or cash back you can share.
Be aware that, while an authorized user isn't legally responsible for paying the balance, their actions impact both users. Only add your partner to your credit card account if you're confident they will not run up unnecessary expenses that make it hard for you to pay your bill.
Decide Who Should Apply for New Credit Cards
Let's say you find the perfect rewards card and want to sign up together. Since few issuers allow joint accounts, one of you will have to apply as the primary account holder, then add the other as an authorized user.
The primary applicant and account holder is the one whose credit is evaluated to determine eligibility. Once approved, this person can add an authorized user without a credit check. That means, if both of your credit scores are in equally tip-top shape, it doesn't make much difference which partner applies for a new account. However, if one of you has bad or fair credit, and the other has good or excellent credit, the person with the higher credit score should apply.
That's because having a higher credit score improves your chances of qualifying for a better credit card, such as one with richer rewards and lower interest rates. Plus, responsible use over time can help lift up the credit score of the partner who's an authorized user.
Consider Applying for the Same Card if There's an Intro Bonus
Many rewards credit cards offer introductory bonuses for new customers, such as a large cash bonus or a big chunk of air miles. The tradeoff is you typically must meet a minimum spend within a set timeframe to qualify for the bonus. For example, a card might offer a whopping 50,000 free air miles to new customers—as long as you spend $5,000 on the card in the first three months.
If the sign-up bonus is significant, and you and your significant other both have good credit, you could individually apply for the same cards at the same time (rather than one of you applying and adding the other as an authorized user). This could land you two intro bonuses to pool.
But here's the downside: You both have to meet the minimum purchase separately, and you both may have to pay annual fees, which don't count toward the minimum spend. It's never a good idea to make purchases you can't afford or don't need just to get a bonus. That negates the value of the bonus and might result in credit card debt you can't afford to pay off.
Instead, you could plan your applications for a time when you already have big purchases coming up. Maybe you two are planning to buy some new furniture or are taking a big trip soon, and you were going to spend a decent sum of money anyway.
You could apply for the cards around that time, divide up purchases to meet the minimum and each score a bonus. Just make sure to pay off the balances quickly so you don't wind up paying huge interest fees or carrying costly debt.
Strive for Excellent Credit
If you and your partner are on the same page with your financial goals, you can not only maximize credit card rewards and score free cash back and travel, but you can also help improve your credit.
Find the best credit card for your lifestyle using Experian CreditMatch™, which tailors offers to your credit score. Then, if you share an account, with one partner as the primary user and the other as an authorized user, your actions can play a big role in the ongoing health of both of your credit scores. By working together and staying within your budget, minimizing debt and paying off your credit card bills quickly and on time, you can both benefit from improved credit over time.