What to Do if You're an Authorized User on a Card That Hasn't Been Paid

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Being an authorized user can be risky business.

It often makes good sense to ask someone with stellar credit to add you as an authorized user on a credit card, especially if you haven't yet built up a strong credit history. Even if you never use the card, that person's good habits and years of credit become part of your credit report, sometimes offering a substantial boost. You also benefit from the increase in available credit the account brings, which affects your credit utilization ratio.

Adding you as an authorized user does create some risk for the cardholder -- if you rack up charges and don't pay, they're responsible. But what if things go awry in the other direction? What if their stellar credit becomes not so stellar?

Even the most financially stable of us can have trouble. Perhaps an aging parent can no longer keep up with the bills, or a reliable friend loses a job and maxes out their credit card. And if you're an authorized user on the card? Your credit score will take a hit.

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Fortunately, you should be able to remove that information from your credit report. Here's how.

Get off the credit card

First, stop the bleeding. If the account has fallen behind severely, the card issuer may close it. If that hasn't happened, consider asking the primary cardholder to reverse your authorized user status. With most credit cards, adding an authorized user is as simple as clicking through a few screens online or calling the company. It's just as simple for the primary cardholder to remove a user.

Circumstances may mean you need to do it yourself. Perhaps you're helping that aging parent, and you know they have more than enough to handle. Or perhaps you don't want to call attention to the financial struggles of the friend who helped you (and now might be the time to return that favor if you can). Some card issuers let you remove yourself from the account. Just call the card issuer's customer service and ask.

That stops further trouble, but it may leave the existing account information on your credit report.

Check your credit reports

If you're lucky, once you're removed as an authorized card user, the credit bureaus will take the entire account history off your report. At the least, new information from the account should stop showing up. But check your reports to keep tabs on what the bureaus do. Through April 2022, you can get your credit reports free once per week via annualcreditreport.com.

Credit report mistakes are common -- around a third of people found mistakes in recent months -- so stay on top of things by following up in a month or two to see that the account is really gone. If it isn't, here's what to do.

Ask the credit bureaus to remove the account

Not all credit bureaus treat authorized user accounts the same way. Because of the bureaus' proprietary systems, it's hard to know exactly how much weight each one gives to what information. Regardless, lenders or others who get your credit report can see the authorized user account.

If it still shows up a month or two after you've gotten off the credit card, contact the credit bureau and ask them to remove the authorized user account from your report. Since you're no longer on the card, that account is erroneous information you can dispute. The dispute process is similar for the three bureaus.

  • TransUnion: TransUnion may factor in negative information from an authorized user account. Open a dispute with TransUnion to get the account removed from your report. Search for "dispute" on TransUnion's site to find directions to get started.
  • Equifax: Equifax may also report negative information from the account. Open a dispute and ask the bureau to remove the account from your report. There's a link on the main Equifax page to start the process.
  • Experian: Though you should still look at your Experian credit report, Experian says it does not factor in negative information from authorized user accounts in determining your credit score. But if you don't want it to show up since lenders or others may see it, open a dispute, explaining that you are no longer an authorized user. The bureau's site has a link on its main page to start a dispute.

Being an authorized user is often a credit score booster. But if things go wrong, it can hurt your chances of loan or mortgage approval, and it can even affect whether you can rent an apartment or land a job. Fortunately, it's a factor you can quickly set right.

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