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Your teens won't be able to qualify for a credit card of their own until they're 18. But you can add them to your credit card account before then, and there are many reasons to do so.
You might want them to have a credit card in case of emergencies, particularly if they're driving on their own and often away from home. It's also an opportunity to teach them financial responsibility, and it can help them establish their credit. Some cards may be better than others, particularly if you want to control their spending, so it's worth taking the time to review your options.
Joint Credit Cards Vs. Adding an Authorized User
Whether you're trying to add a spouse, child or friend, most credit card issuers don't allow cosigners or joint credit card accounts. Instead, if you want to add another person to your account, you'll need to add them as an authorized user.
The difference is that cosigners have equal responsibility for the account. You both can earn and use rewards, and are both required to pay the balance. If the bill goes unpaid, both account holders are liable.
In contrast, when you add an authorized user to your account, you are legally responsible for the entire account as the primary cardholder. Your authorized user can make purchases and may be able to pay down the balance, but you'll generally have control over any rewards that are earned and, again, are ultimately liable for any balance that accrues.
If you add someone as an authorized user, the credit card company may report the account and activity to the credit bureaus so it can then be reflected in their budding credit report. Because of this, adding your teen as an authorized user can help them build credit. Authorized user and reporting policies vary depending on the issuer, so your mileage may vary.
For example, American Express lets you add an authorized user who is at least 13 years old, but will only report the authorized user's account when the person is at least 18 years old. Discover requires the person to be at least 15, and will report the authorized user account starting at that age. Some issuers, including Citi, don't have an age requirement for adding or reporting the authorized user.
Controlling Your Teen's Authorized-User Account
As you'll be the one responsible for paying the bill, you might also want some control over how much your teen can charge with their card, if your credit card issuer offers you this kind of control.
One card issuer that provides this option is American Express. With an American Express card, you can set authorized user spending alerts and limits, which can be as low as $200. Your monthly statement will also separate your charges from the authorized user's charges. And, you can log in to your account and check the authorized user's current balance at any time.
Partially because of these options, many of our top picks are American Express cards.
Top Credit Cards for Adding a Teen
American Express Cash Magnet® Card
The American Express Cash Magnet® Card is a simple rewards card that doesn't have an annual fee. You'll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase made with your cards. Plus, you can get bonus cash back if you meet the initial spending requirement.
The card also offers an 15-month introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) on purchases and balance transfers for new cardholders. After that, the card's standard 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR kicks in. It could be a good option if you have an upcoming large purchase that you'll need time to pay off, as long as you create a plan to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends. And, depending on your child's age, sharing your plan and progress could be a good opportunity to teach good financial habits.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases each year), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, and 1% cash back elsewhere. New cardholders can earn a cash back bonus and receive a promotional 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After 15 months, the card's standard APR will be a variable 14.49% to 25.49%. This card doesn't have an annual fee.
It could be a good fit if your usual spending aligns with the cash back bonus categories. And, if your teen is driving, they can use the credit card to buy gas and earn you bonus cash back. While you'll wind up paying the bill, they'll still learn and understand part of the cost of driving—and you could ask them to reimburse you for certain expenses.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
If you take regular family vacations, your teen's spending could help pay for hotel stays with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. The card offers a large intro bonus for new cardholders and you'll earn 6 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. You also earn 3 points per dollar on purchases that don't fit into a bonus category.
While staying at a Hilton portfolio hotel or resort, you pay with this card and get 12 points per dollar. Cardholders also receive Gold status, which comes with benefits like bonus points from stays, potential room upgrades and complimentary breakfast.
Adding an authorized user to this card can also help you earn a free weekend night voucher, which you'll get after spending $15,000 within a calendar year. Both the primary and authorized users' purchases count toward this perk. The downside is the card has a $95 annual fee, so you'll want to consider your spending habits and travel plans to determine if it's worth the expense.
Discover it® Secured
The Discover it® Secured credit card is for people who are first building their credit or rebuilding their credit after making a mistake. If you're working on building your credit, and want to help your teen do the same, this could be a good option. Unlike many secured cards, there are few fees and you can earn rewards.
There are no annual, application or monthly fees, and Discover waives your first late payment fee. You also earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined gas station and restaurant purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on other purchases. At the end of the first year, Discover also will match all the cash back you earned.
However, the card has a high APR (24.49% variable), so make sure you can pay your bill in full every month, including the charges from your teen's card. Responsible use can also lead to another benefit. After eight months, Discover automatically begins reviewing your account and may refund your security deposit—converting your card to an unsecured credit card.
A Stepping Stone to a Card of Their Own
Adding your teen as an authorized user on your account can be a good opportunity for them to learn how to use a credit card, and your on-time payments can help them build a positive credit history. Once they're older, their established credit and experience with a credit card may help prepare them for a starter card of their own.