Can You Apply for a Credit Card With a Co-Signer? Learn About Your Options
A poor credit score can significantly reduce your chances of getting the credit card of your choosing. One way to overcome this problem used to be to get a credit card with a co-signer.
In this article, we’ll go over the definition of a co-signer and the requirements to become one. Given that, as of March 2024, no major credit card issuer offers this option, we’ll also explain what the alternatives are.
What Is a Credit Card Co-Signer?
A credit card co-signer is a person who agrees to pay the card’s outstanding balance or debt if the credit card account holder doesn’t meet their payment obligations. For that reason, this person has to be someone with a proven ability to make timely payments, i.e., someone with a good credit score.
Their purpose is to help the person they are co-signing for obtain a credit card. That person might not be able to get one otherwise, either due to bad credit or having no credit at all.
Who Could Be a Credit Card Co-Signer?
Naturally, there were some requirements for becoming a credit card co-signer, back when some credit card providers allowed this. Although in many cases, people would turn to their close family members to be their co-signers, this was not a requirement.
Your co-signer could be anyone with a sufficient FICO® score who is older than 21 years. In other words, any adult who demonstrated their ability to make minimum payments.
Credit Card Co-Signer vs. Authorized User: What Is the Difference?
An authorized user and co-signer are two distinct terms, and are not interchangeable. Authorized users can use someone else’s credit card. However, the primary cardholder is still responsible for any debt left on the credit card.
Authorized users’ creditworthiness is directly impacted by how the primary user uses the card. In other words, if they fail to pay what they owe, this can hurt both credit scores on the account, while if they use the card responsibly, both scores will improve.
On the other hand, a co-signer is there to help a person with a poor credit score qualify for a credit card. The primary user won’t be sharing their credit card with anyone, so the co-signer doesn’t have access to the account. Rather, they just sign an agreement that if the person they are vouching for doesn’t make timely payments, they will make their payments instead.
One similarity is that neither the authorized user nor the co-signer has the authority to make any changes to the primary cardholder’s account.
Credit Card Co-Signer vs. Joint Owner: How Do You Distinguish Between the Two?
In the case of a joint account, there is no primary account holder, as both parties are equally responsible for maintaining the account. In other words, they share the obligation of making all their payments on time and the same credit limit. The credit card issuer will examine the credit history of both individuals before issuing the card, with equal credit score requirements.
The main distinguishing factor between a joint owner and a co-signer is that the co-signer is only obliged to pay off the debt if the primary cardholder doesn’t. The joint account option means both parties are equally responsible for settling credit card debt.
Credit Card Issuers: Which Ones Allow a Co-Signer?
Unfortunately, currently, it’s very challenging to find a financial institution that will issue you a credit card with a co-signer. For example, Bank of America, USAA, and US Bank used to allow credit card co-signers, but this is no longer an option in any of these banks. Currently, the only option is to turn to some local banks or credit unions.
However, Bank of America does allow students to obtain a credit card with a guarantor. When a student’s application is denied, they will receive a guarantor letter from the bank. Like a co-signer, a guarantor serves as a backup, as they will be responsible for any debt the primary cardholder doesn’t pay off.
Pros and Cons of Credit Card Co-Signing: Who Is It for?
The most obvious perk and significant reason people would obtain a credit card with a co-signer is because it was a way for people to get an unsecured credit card even if they don’t meet the credit score requirements.
While there are other options for people with bad credit scores to acquire cards, such as becoming an authorized user or getting a secured credit card, several other benefits of having a credit card with a co-signer prompted people to turn to this solution.
With a co-signed card, you are still the primary cardholder, which is not the case when you’re an authorized user. Moreover, to obtain a secured credit card, you need to leave a deposit, while no deposit is required when you have a co-signer.
On the other hand, there are some major drawbacks to this arrangement, as well. The main issue is the risks involved, most of which fall on the co-signer, as they are the ones responsible for resolving the debt if you don’t manage to do so.
Falling behind on payments or defaulting reflects poorly not only on your credit score, but on the co-signer’s, as well. All of this can negatively impact your relationship with the co-signer. Therefore, it was imperative that you chose this option only if you were certain that you could make all your payments on time and that the person co-signing was prepared for the potential fallout.
Co-Signer Alternatives: What Are Your Other Options?
Not everyone has someone in their life who would agree to be a co-signer, and even if they did, we’ve seen that it’s not an option anymore, anyway. Luckily that is not the only thing people with bad credit can do to acquire a credit card. Here are some credit card co-signer alternatives.
Acquire a Secured Credit Card
One alternative to credit card co-signing is acquiring a secured credit card. Secured credit cards are easier to get approved for than their unsecured counterparts. That’s because a secured credit card requires you to leave a deposit, and an unsecured credit card doesn’t.
The deposit is there to serve as collateral for the credit card issuer and as your credit limit. Therefore, secured credit cards can be a great way to build credit, as they are available for people with poor or no credit.
Become an Authorized User
Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card is probably the most similar option to getting a credit card with a co-signer. As we’ve already explained, an authorized user receives a credit card linked to the primary cardholder’s account.
They can make purchases using the card and have access to the credit limit. It’s up to the primary cardholder to make sure there is no debt, however. Still, if the primary user fails to make their payments, it will reflect poorly on their and your credit score alike.
Get the Credit Card from an Alternative Issuer
Now that you can’t apply for a credit card with a co-signer, you may turn to an alternative credit card issuer. Similarly to a secured credit card, an alternative credit card is a type of credit card designed for people with insufficient credit.
You may not get rewards with some of these cards, but they can be a viable option, as they don’t require you to leave a deposit. However, they do come with some specific requirements.
Some of them require a fair score, for example. Others don’t have any credit score requirements, but ask you to sign up for specific subscription services, such as Netflix and Spotify. Keep in mind that these cards may come with lower credit limits, too.
Options Beyond Credit Cards
While having a credit card can be convenient, as you have renewing credit at your disposal each month, there are some alternatives to getting a credit card you may want to take into account.
Depending on your needs, for instance, you may opt for a short-term loan for bad credit. This can be a lifesaver for people who are momentarily struggling with paying their bills. However, you should remember that these loans' interest rates are generally much higher than average. On the other hand, for some, long-term bad credit loans may be a more suitable option.
Those who wish to bypass the high APRs typical for bad credit loans, may apply for a guarantor loan. This type of loan works on a similar principle as credit cards with co-signers. Namely, you get someone to be your guarantor, which means they agree to pay off your debt if you don’t.
Becoming a Co-Signer: When Should You Decide to Help Out?
So far, we’ve discussed the details of having a credit card with a co-signer for bad credit, so it’s time to look at it from the other side of the coin - the co-signer’s.
When it was still possible, you should only have co-signed for someone you trusted to be responsible and fulfill their payment obligations. How they use their credit card would have reflected on your credit report. Therefore, being a co-signer might have positively impacted your credit score and thus helped you build credit, as long as the primary cardholder managed their debt responsibly.
Getting a credit card with a co-signer was a viable solution for those who couldn’t acquire an unsecured credit card otherwise, but were certain they could make their payments on time. Most people would turn to their relatives or close friends for this kind of obligation.
As of the beginning of 2022, all major United States banks have withdrawn this option, so you’ll have to consider other options if you don’t wish to turn to local banks or credit unions. Some alternatives include obtaining a secured credit card or becoming an authorized user.
Is it easier to get approved with a co-signer?
Yes, having a co-signer with a good or excellent credit score used to significantly increase your chances of getting approved for a credit card of your choice. That’s because this person guaranteed they would pay your debt if you failed to do so.
Can parents co-sign for a credit card?
Yes, parents can co-sign for a credit card, as long as the credit card applicant fulfills the age requirements. The co-signer can be anyone who has a satisfactory credit score. It wasn’t unusual for people to ask their family members or close friends to be co-signers, because this arrangement was quite risky, so these people were the most likely to want to help out.
Can a co-signer have worse credit than you?
No, a co-signer mustn’t have a worse credit score than you. Credit card issuers want to be sure that the debt will be paid, so if you have a bad credit score, the point of getting a co-signer is having someone with a proven track record of paying their debts on time vouch for you and agree to pay off your debt if you aren’t able to.
What is the minimum age you can open a credit card if you have a co-signer?
While you may become an authorized user at a younger age, the legal age to acquire your own credit card with a co-signer was 18, just like without one.
Where can I get a credit card with a co-signer?
As of January 2022, none of the major credit card issuers allow customers to acquire a credit card with a co-signer. The alternative closest to the co-signer option is becoming an authorized user. However, you should keep in mind that you wouldn’t be able to make any changes to the account. On the plus side, you wouldn’t be responsible for paying off the debt, either.
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.