What to do if the bank won’t talk to you as an authorized user?

This post originally appeared December 11, 2014, on CreditCards.com as “Authorized users can’t access credit account information

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
I am a joint account holder on a Chase credit card account with my wife. Chase reports my credit, but refuses to speak to me about the account. Can they legally do this?  — Chris

Dear Chris,
My guess is that while you probably consider yourself a joint account holder and may very well be the one who uses and participates in managing the account, in the eyes of Chase you are most likely an authorized user, and your wife is the individual card holder.

As an authorized user, you have a card with your name on it, have all of the purchasing capabilities of an individual or joint account holder, and reap the credit scoring benefits of having the entire credit history of the account included in your credit reports and scores. However, you are not considered a primary account holder and don’t share responsibility for any debt incurred on the card.

Of course, including the account’s credit history is only a benefit if that history reflects a low balance and payments that are consistently made on time. Should the history be more on the negative side, a nice perk of being an authorized user and not a primary holder is that at any time you can simply have yourself removed from the account by contacting the card company and have the account eliminated from your credit report and score by disputing it with the credit bureaus.

I say you’re probably an authorized user on the card for two reasons. One, because if you were a true joint account holder, meaning you and your wife are together and individually liable for all charges made on the card, Chase would be required to share all account information with both of you. And secondly, Chase is one of a number of banks that no longer offers jointly held credit card accounts, though they continue to support joint accounts opened before making this policy change a little more than a year ago. Other banks that have stopped opening joint accounts are HSBC and Capital One, while TD Bank and American Express have never offered them.

How do you find out for sure if you are a joint account holder or an authorized user? There are a couple of ways:

  1. Contact Chase, or if they won’t talk to you because you are not a primary cardholder, have your wife make the call, asking if she holds the account jointly or individually with you as an authorized user. If you’ve had the account for a couple of years or more it may turn out that you are, in fact, a joint account holder, in which case the customer service agent who refused to speak with you simply made a mistake.
  2. Obtain your credit report(s) from AnnualCreditReport.com to determine whether the “ECOA code” on the Chase account trade line describes your relationship to the account as joint account holder or authorized user. If you are an authorized user and your wife either holds the account individually or jointly with someone else, that same account will show a different ECOA code on your credit report than on your wife’s. Yours will indicate authorized user status and hers either individual or joint (with someone else) account holder.

Either way, if it does turn out your status is authorized user, don’t fret that Chase won’t talk to you. Instead, take comfort knowing that you are free to apply for your own individually held card from any bank, and that your likelihood of approval will not be diminished by having been an authorized user. Remember that as long as your wife’s account is in good standing, the credit history associated with it has contributed positively to your credit report and score, which could help you land your own individually held card. Then, if you like, you can add your wife as an authorized user on your card.

Have a question or comment?  Let’s hear it!

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