Can You Apply for a Credit Card With a Co-Signer?

Written By
I. Mitic
Updated
February 10,2022

If you're applying for your first credit card or you're stuck with bad credit, one of the potential solutions is to get a co-signer. A credit card co-signer is a person who agrees to be responsible for your credit card debt if you cannot pay it. This person is usually a friend or family member who trusts you and believes in your ability to repay the debt.

Credit card issuers vary in their policies for co-signers. Some allow them, but many financial institutions don’t under any circumstances. Still, in case your credit is not good enough to get a card issued by yourself, getting a credit card with a co-signer might be your only option other than an authorized or secured card.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of having a credit card co-signed so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not this is the right choice for you.

What Is a Credit Card Co-Signer?

A credit card co-signer is a person who signs your credit card application and becomes responsible for repaying your debt if you cannot do so. Co-signers usually have good or excellent credit that helps you get approved for a new account. This means you're practically "piggybacking" off their good credit standing in order to get your own credit card approved.

For you to apply for a credit card with a co-signer, the co-signer has to be at least 21 years old, and he or she must be willing to co-sign the credit card application. There are limited credit score benefits for co-signing another person's credit card if the primary cardholder makes timely payments and keeps their credit card usage ratio low.

Becoming a co-signer on another person's credit card is not something that should be taken lightly. First of all, if the primary cardholder does not make the necessary payments on their credit card debt, or they're unwilling to, the co-signer is obligated to cover those debts.

Secondly, if you sign an application for a friend or family member and they don't manage the account properly, it could negatively impact your credit score. For example, if the primary co-sign credit card cardholder maxes out their credit limit and then stops making payments on their debt in full and on time each month, this will be reflected in both of your credit scores.

Thirdly, it's important to understand that the co-signer cannot limit or control how a primary cardholder uses their account. The co-signer is responsible for all of the debt associated with this account as if they were using it themselves, but cannot use any other features such as adding an authorized user, changing the terms of the account, or closing it.

The co-signer is simply a guarantor that someone else's debt will be repaid, and their good credit standing increases your chances of being approved for a new card. To co-sign a credit card application is something to take seriously, because you could end up damaging your own credit if the primary cardholder can't pay their debt.

Naturally, personal relationships between the primary cardholder and the co-signer can get strained if things go wrong. Potentially imposing your own debts on another person and ruining their credit standing can put even family relationships under pressure.

Before you commit to having a credit card co-signed, it's imperative that both parties are well aware of all the potential risks this kind of arrangement comes with.

The Requirements for Becoming a Credit Card Co-Signer

As we've already mentioned, the credit card co-signer needs to be at least 21 years old. Additionally. the co-signer must be a US citizen or have permanent residency, and they cannot currently be in bankruptcy proceedings.

The credit card issuer's requirements for co-signers can vary, but typically the co-signer is someone who knows and trusts you to repay the debt if necessary. Furthermore, the co-signer needs to have a good credit score in order to be viable, as the whole point is to have a third party with good credit backing you up.

The exact credit score requirements can vary between CC issuers, but the most common requirement is for the co-signer to be in the very good or exceptional range, i.e. over 670. Still, if you’re wondering “ can I get a credit card with a co-signer?” make sure to check whether the issuer in question even allows credit card co-signers and what the exact requirements are for a person to be one.

It's not necessarily the case that co-signers need to be family members or friends, as there are some companies out there that will offer this service for a fee.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Credit Card Co-Signer?

If you have no credit history or a poor/bad one, it might be impossible to get your own credit card approved. Aside from getting a card co-signed, your only options will be authorized cards and secured cards. However, you’re not the primary cardholder on authorized cards (limiting your credit-building capabilities), and secured cards both require a collateral deposit and limit the amount you can spend. Hence, having a credit card with a co-signer issued could be ideal for getting you on your feet.

Whether you're an international student or a recent graduate, having no history of using loans and paying them back can make it impossible for you to use credit the same way most people do in the US. However, by having someone co-sign your application for a new credit card, you will have a much better chance of being approved.

Having family members and close friends co-sign your application can also be very beneficial to both parties as it makes the process easier for you and helps them build credit by association (as long as you use the card responsibly). If this is something that interests both parties then there are some additional things to keep in mind.

The Drawbacks of Having a Credit Card Co-Signer

As we mentioned earlier, co-signing someone else's credit card comes with risks for the co-signer. If you're not comfortable with the idea of being fully responsible for another person's debt repayments, then don't do it.

If the primary cardholder is unable to pay the debt back, then as a co-signer for the credit card you are legally obligated to do so. Most issuers will first try reaching out to the primary cardholder, but if they continue ignoring their bills and failing to repay their debt on time (and this can happen quickly), then your credit could be ruined.

If you're the one having your credit card application co-signed, then you need to be aware that if the co-signer's credit is negatively impacted by their involvement in this agreement, it will make it harder for them to get a loan or a new CC.

This is something that can create additional tension between both parties and should be taken into account before co-signing someone else's credit card.

There are other risks associated with being involved in a credit card with a co-signer arrangement, such as the fact that if you live in a different state than the primary cardholder, the creditor can go after you first in order to collect on the debt.

The best way to avoid any potential problems is to be extremely communicative with the co-signer about your spending and repayment habits.

Credit Card Co-Signer vs. Authorized User

Two terms that are commonly mixed up are credit card co-signer and authorized user. However, there are some very important differences between the two.

First of all, unlike a credit card co-signer, authorized users do not have any legal obligation to repay the debt on the card if the primary cardholder fails to do so. However, the credit history of the authorized user will be affected by the credit usage and payment history of the card.

This could be a good or bad thing, depending on the authorized user's credit score. In general, being an authorized user carries less weight when it comes to FICO scores than being a co-signer. If they have excellent credit, then being an authorized user will help boost their score. However, if their score is poor/bad, then this could hurt it even more.

Another important difference is that authorized users can actually use the credit card to make purchases. A co-signer on a credit card cannot do this, as they have practically no control over how the card is used - they just serve as guarantors that the primary cardholder's debts will be covered.

As such, being an authorized user is a better solution for people with little-to-no credit history than for those stuck in the lower brackets. In low-credit situations, authorized user status simply adds credit score data where there was previously very little. In a situation of severe credit damage, authorized user status is compared to the amount of harm already done.

When it comes to adding another person as an authorized user on a credit card you already have, there are no requirements for the other party's credit score. In fact, your co-signer can be anyone of legal age.

However, most issuers will require that the primary cardholder open their account before they add an authorized user. So, if you're looking for a co-signer, adding someone as an authorized user won't help you get the card issued in the first place.

Credit Card Co-Signer vs. Joint Account

Another common credit card agreement is the joint account holder. Joint account holders have more rights than either authorized users or co-signers and are equally responsible for the debt repayment.

If one of the joint account holders dies, the other is still responsible for the debt (even if they're not named on the will). Also, if one of the joint account holders files for bankruptcy, the other will have to as well.

This type of agreement is usually chosen by married couples who want both spouses to be equally liable for any credit card debts accrued. It's important to remember that there is no such thing as a "joint account holder" on a credit card application - both applicants must apply for the card and be approved in order to have a joint account.

The joint credit card account and its history will show up on all three credit bureau reports (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) for both people involved. If you feel like your finances are at a healthy level, this can prove great for improving your respective credit scores.

When it comes to choosing between a credit card with a co-signer and a joint account holder, there are pros and cons to both options.

A co-signer is a great solution when your credit score prevents you from being approved for a new credit card, but you don't want the other person to be equally responsible for the debt. However, keep in mind that once the credit cards with a co-signer primary account holder misses payments or maxes out their balance, it's up to you to cover those late fees and high-interest charges.

A joint account is a better option for couples who want to be equally responsible for any credit card debts. This type of agreement also gives both account holders the right to use the card and makes it easier to manage money as a team. However, if one person files for bankruptcy, both people are legally obligated to do so.

Another important thing to consider is that joint credit card debt might prove difficult to manage and navigate in the case of a divorce. Even if you can prove that your ex-partner was responsible for the outstanding balance on the card and your divorce decree reflects as such, lenders may pursue both of you until the debt is paid.

Credit Card Issuers That Allow Co-Signers (February 2022)

At the time of writing, none of the major card issuers allowed co-signer applications. In the previous period, one could find a few of them that did, like Bank of America, but it seems all of them have moved away from allowing this type of credit card arrangement.

Issuer 

Accepts Co-Signers

AMEX

No

Bank of America

No

Barclays

No

Capital One

No

Chase

No

Citi

No

Discover

No

U.S Bank

No

Wells Fargo

No


In case you can't find an issuer that supports co-signer arrangements, you can look into viable alternatives below. However, some issuers like Bank of America might accept guarantors. If a student applies for a credit card and is rejected, the bank will provide a guarantor letter. A guarantee is someone who makes the identical financial obligation as the cardholder in case he or she decides not to pay back any money borrowed. 

Credit Card Co-Signer Alternatives

With co-signing being a risky proposition for both parties, it would be wise to consider and weigh up the potential alternatives, as well as keep in mind credit card co-signer pros and cons before committing.

Secured credit cards: These credit cards are usually much easier for people with poor or no credit history to attain. They come with a collateral deposit and impose credit line limits, which are usually equal to the amount deposited. Secured credit cards are great for building credit, are significantly easier to get approved for, and actually limit how much you can spend, making them a safer alternative to credit card co-signing.

Store-branded credit cards: If you have no credit history at all, apply for a store-branded credit card that can be used exclusively at one retailer (such as a Target Red Card).

Get authorized on another person's credit card: If you're looking to build some credit history, getting authorized on someone else's card can be a great solution. However, you'll get less credit score history than with secured credit cards, as you're not the primary cardholder.

Lastly, if the circumstances allow for it, you can work to build or improve your credit score.  For instance, you can build your credit score by focusing on the following:

  • Paying all of your bills on time (rent, phone bills, utility bills, etc.). If you have debt or loans, pay them off in full or at least make minimum monthly payments.
  • Using your existing credit card responsibly. Make small purchases on it and pay them off in full every month. The more responsible you are with your little bit of available credit, the better your score will be.

Bottom Line

Credit card co-signers can be a great way for people to get their foot in the door when it comes to credit, but it's important to understand both the benefits and drawbacks of this agreement before signing on. 

Co-signing someone else's credit card can help them build a positive credit history, but it also makes you equally responsible for the debt. If you're considering becoming a co-signer, make sure you know what you're getting into and be sure that the other person is capable of repaying their debt on time.

Also, don’t forget that finding credit cards that allow a co-signer can be difficult, so make sure to check which financial institutions support this kind of arrangement beforehand.

FAQ

What does a co-signer do for a credit card?

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A co-signer is a person with good credit standing who signs your credit card application with you. As such, they’re responsible for any debts you fail to pay, but do not have any control over your credit card otherwise.

Can you get a credit card with no cosigner?

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Absolutely, but this may be considerably more difficult for people with no credit history or a bad credit score. This is exactly the reason why a lot of people turn to credit cards with co-signers.

Does being a cosigner on a credit card help your credit?

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Not really, but there could be some small benefits to your credit score if the primary cardholder handles their payments in a timely manner. You do, however, stand to lose your credit score if the bills are not paid consistently and on time.

Can parents cosign for a credit card?

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Yes, a lot of people turn to their parents or family members in order to get a credit card with a co-signer. Due to the risks involved, your close family is most likely to be willing to get into this kind of credit card arrangement to help you out.

About author

For years, the clients I worked for were banks. That gave me an insider’s view of how banks and other institutions create financial products and services. Then I entered the world of journalism. Fortunly is the result of our fantastic team’s hard work. I use the knowledge I acquired as a bank copywriter to create valuable content that will help you make the best possible financial decisions.

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