If you have no credit or bad credit, opening a card with a co-signer can be a great option. But which issuers let you use a co-signer?
Of all the major credit card issuers, only Bank of America and U.S. Bank appear to allow a co-signer. Most issuers, however, offer alternatives like joint accounts and authorized users.
Discover how to open a card with a co-signer, the pros and cons of doing so, and what alternatives you have.
Apply for Credit Card With a Co-signer – What Cards Allow It
If you want to open a credit card with a co-signer, it can seem like a daunting task. Only a handful of issuers let you use a co-signer. The good news, however, is that those issuers offer multiple cards. Additionally, there are alternatives that may work just as well.
A Refresher – What Is Co-signing?
Before we get into co-signed credit cards, refresh your memory on what co-signing means. This term is also commonly used for loans in addition to credit cards.
Co-signing is when someone with a better credit score and/or income guarantees that they will pay any balance if you default. There is nothing in it for the co-signer, except the knowledge that they are helping you. But co-signing comes with risks for them. The most obvious is that if you don't pay your bills, they are responsible for them. This can be costly and hurt their credit score.
As such, it can be very hard to find someone to co-sign a credit card for you. Common scenarios include parents co-signing for their children or someone co-signing for their significant other.
Additional reading: Buy A Car With A Credit Card [ANSWERED]
The Quick Answer – Which Issuers Allow Co-signers?
Most sources agree that only Bank of America and U.S. Bank let you open a co-signed credit card. Some sources also indicate Wells Fargo does, but this is not confirmed.
The following are some of the credit cards from these issuers that you might be able to open with a co-signer. Remember that the card issuers' policies may vary.
- Bank of America's Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Bank of America's Premium Rewards Credit Card
- Bank of America's Travel Rewards Credit Card
- U.S. Bank's Cash+ Visa Signature Card
- U.S. Bank's Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card
- By contrast, many card issuers have confirmed they don't allow co-signers. The following DO NOT let you have a co-signer:
- American Express
- Capital One
Check Your Local Credit Union
If your local credit union offers a credit card, they may allow a co-signed credit card. This is more likely to be the case if you or your co-signer have a strong relationship with the bank already.
Do Co-signed Credit Cards Build Credit?
Yes! Co-signed credit cards can build credit. The important caveat here is that you need to make on-time payments for it to improve your score. Assuming you pay your card balance on time, a co-signed credit card can build your credit in several ways:
- Improving your payment history
- Potentially increasing your average account age (eventually)
- Potentially improving your credit mix
- Potentially improving your credit utilization ratio (assuming you maintain a low balance)
But if you aren't responsible with the co-signed credit card, it can hurt your credit (and that of your co-signer). This can happen if you are late with payments.
Is It Easier to Get Approved With a Co-signer?
Yes! The fact that it is easier to get approved with a co-signer is the reason that many people want to open a credit card with a co-signer in the first place. It dramatically improves your chances of being approved, as the co-signer agrees to pay the balance if you don't.
From the perspective of the card issuer, your co-signer is much more reliable than you. This is because they have a higher credit score and income than you.
Alternatives to Getting a Co-signer
As mentioned, getting a co-signer is not the only way to get access to a credit card if you have poor or no credit. Depending on your goals, there are a few alternatives. Just keep in mind that not all of them will build your credit score.
Joint accounts can sometimes be an alternative to co-signing a credit card, but you will likely struggle to find card issuers that allow this. That is for the same reason many don't offer to co-sign—they prefer to just have one person be responsible for an account.
Keep in mind that with joint accounts, both of you are account owners. You are both responsible for the credit card debt and both appear on the bill. This contrasts with co-signed accounts, where you are the primary user. Only your name appears on the bill, but your co-signer is also legally responsible for the balance. In either case, the account appears on both people's credit reports.
Being Added as an Authorized User
If you need access to a credit card but don't care whether it affects your credit score, then you can ask someone to add you as an authorized user. As an authorized user, you will receive a credit card linked to that person's account but with your name on the card.
Most importantly, you have no financial responsibility to pay off the card. This means it will only minimally affect your credit score. It will still appear on your credit report but have much less weight.
That small weight, however, makes a bigger difference for people with no credit than those with poor credit. After all, if you have no credit or "thin" credit, being an authorized user would add a small positive item to your credit history. By contrast, if you have bad credit, it will only negate a small amount of the damage to your score.
Related post: 24 Heaviest Credit Cards You Can Get in 2022
It should go without saying that adding someone as an authorized user on a credit card poses a risk for the cardholder. You could theoretically rack up their credit card bill and would have no legal responsibility to pay for it.
Because of this, it can sometimes be hard to find someone willing to add you as an authorized user. As with co-signers, it is most common for family members or significant others to add each other as authorized users.
To overcome this, some card issuers will let the account holder put limits on authorized users. For example, you may get a credit card, but it will have a lower spending limit than that of the account.
Getting a Secured Credit Card
If you want to build credit and get the convenience that comes with a credit card, one of your best choices will be a secured credit card. With these cards, you make a deposit that becomes your line of credit. This way, if you default, your deposit will pay off the balance.
Secured cards are a great way to build your credit, as the issuers will report to the major credit bureaus. Just make sure to make your payments on time to get the most benefit.
Of course, the caveat to this is that your credit limit will be limited to the amount you deposit. As such, you are essentially locking up some of your money for as long as you have the credit card. On the other hand, you get to build credit.
Look for Other Credit Cards
If none of the other options work for you, you can also comparison shop for credit cards. Some are designed to appeal to people with poor credit scores and will consider your account balance or income instead. Other cards may approve you despite your credit score but charge a high-interest rate. Just be sure to pay attention to interest rates and fees.
Pros and Cons of Opening a Co-signed Credit Card
Before you decide whether to get a credit card with a co-signer, consider the pros and cons of doing so.
Pro: Easier Approval
As mentioned, it is much easier to be approved for a credit card with a co-signer. This is specifically the case if you have a low income or poor credit history.
Pro: Build Credit
As long as you make on-time payments, opening a co-signed credit card will help you build your credit score.
Con: Hard to Find Co-signers
Your co-signer is legally responsible for your balance. They have to trust that you will pay the bill or they will be able to. Any late payments or overdue balances can hurt them financially and drop their credit score. Even worse, co-signers typically don't receive the bills. So, they have to trust that you will tell them if you are struggling to make a payment so they can step in. This makes it very hard to find a co-signer.
Con: Defaulting Can Hurt Your Relationship
Financial issues are one of the most common reasons relationships of any kind struggle. If your co-signer has to pay off your balance and/or the card hurts their score, it can negatively affect your relationship. This could be the end of your friendship or romantic relationship. With family members, it can significantly strain gatherings.
If you have poor credit, you may want to consider a co-signed credit card. However, only a small handful of issuers offer co-signed cards. If that isn't an option for you, consider a secured credit card or ask someone who trusts you to add you as an authorized user.
More to learn: 9 Things To Consider When Looking For A Credit Card
Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.