How to share a credit card

By Emma Lunn

If you're married or cohabiting, you might have a joint mortgage, joint bank account and joint savings. However, the rules are different when it comes to credit cards. Unlike some other countries, including the US, there's no such thing as a joint credit card in the UK.

However, there are ways you and your partner can spend money on the same credit card accounts. But it's a good idea to be clear on who's responsible for the repayments before entering this kind of arrangement.

Sharing credit
UK credit cards are held in one name only, and it's that person who is ultimately responsible for the debt. However, you can add a secondary cardholder to the account who will have his or her own card and can spend on it up to the agreed credit limit on the account. However, this person is not responsible for repayment. sharing-a-credit-card

If you want to add a secondary cardholder to your account, it shouldn't require any further credit checks, and the secondary cardholder won't have to sign a credit agreement. Simply call your bank and ask for the secondary cardholder to be added to your account.

Pros and cons
Having a secondary cardholder can be useful for couples who spend money on joint purchases, such as holidays or expenses for a shared home. Or, parents might want to give children at university or on a gap year a second card tied to their accounts.

However, the principal cardholder is solely responsible for the debt, even if the other person spends money on the card without permission. In trusting relationships, this shouldn't be an issue, but it can be a problem if the relationship breaks down or the secondary cardholder doesn't spend responsibly.

"When adding an additional cardholder to your account, it is important to remember that, as the primary cardholder, you will be responsible for the debt contained on it, no matter whose debt it is," says Gareth Davies, Nationwide's senior manager for credit cards. "While it can seem a great idea, the pitfalls may outweigh the benefits. That's why you need to enter into such an agreement carefully."

Both parties sharing the card assume some degree of risk. If you're the principal account holder and your partner -- or ex-partner -- goes on a wild spending spree, you'll be the one left with the bill. On the flip side, if you're the secondary cardholder and the relationship ends, your partner can easily block your ability to use card.

If you're thinking of adding your partner as a secondary cardholder on your account, it's a good idea to have a frank discussion about how the card will be used first.

"Sharing a credit card with your partner involves a range of rights and responsibilities," says Una Farrell media relations manager for debt charity StepChange, "Both you and your partner need to fully understand not just what your own rights and responsibilities are, but the other person's, too. Above all, you need to work out how you will use the card, including how you repay what you owe and keep each other informed of how it is being used."

Other kinds of credit
Not all kinds of credit function this way. The situation is different for mortgages, for example. If you have a joint mortgage, both parties will be wholly responsible for repayments. This means the bank can chase both parties if the account falls into arrears. Still, because the mortgage is shared, if one person stops paying his or her share of the mortgage, the other person will have to find the extra money, or the property will be at risk of repossession.

See related: 3 signs your relationship is headed for financial trouble, Younger women taking control of household finances

Published: 24 January 2013