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Can you be responsible for someone else’s credit card debt?

Take care before becoming a guarantor or opening a joint credit card.

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Though most people don’t realize it, you can sometimes be forced to pay someone else’s credit card debt. Such occurrences are rare, but it’s possible to take on that liability without knowing the potential consequences down the line.

When are you accountable for someone else’s debt?

There are three main situations in which you can be held responsible for debt someone else racked up:

  • When you act as a guarantor. If someone doesn’t qualify for a credit card independently, they can ask someone to act as a guarantor. As the guarantor, you’re required to sign an agreement that legally allows the bank to transfer all debt to you should the cardholder fail to make repayments.
  • When you assign an authorized user. You can help your partner, spouse or child build credit by adding them as authorized users to your credit card account. In this case, you are fully liable to pay for any debt they accrue.
  • When you open a jointly-held credit card with a partner. If you opened a joint account with someone and have a jointly-held credit card, this means that you are equally responsible for repaying any debt accrued. In this case, you could be forced to pay your partner’s credit card debt if they can’t pay them off themselves.

How to check if you’re responsible for someone else’s debt

You can check right away. Here’s how:

  1. Log in to your online credit card account or open your last credit card statement.
  2. Check whether you have authorized users on your account or whether there’s another name along with yours (joint accounts).

How to pay off someone else’s credit card debt

If you decide to help someone pay off their credit card debt, you should be fully aware of the risks involved, including financial stress and possible damage to your credit score, so that you can prepare yourself to take on their financial burden. If you’re OK with the risks, you have three options:

  • Become a guarantor. This would transfer all liability for the debt to you and allow you to clear the debt from your own account. You’ll need to give your personal information to the bank and sign an agreement transferring credit liability to you.
    • If the debt has already gone into collection, you will not be able to become a guarantor and may be forced to make payments directly to the creditor’s account.
  • Transfer their debt to a credit card in your name. To successfully pay off someone else’s credit card debt, you will need their personal information and the creditor’s details. Be sure that the credit card you transfer the debt to has sufficient credit and notify the creditor that you are assuming the entire debt. However, before you assume the debt, explore getting a balance transfer credit card as a way to pay it off without paying high interest rates.
  • Pay them directly. If you have a close friend or family member in debt and you want to help without risking your own credit, you can send money to your loved one and trust that they’ll use it to pay off the debt. The upside of this is that you aren’t assuming legal liability for the debt. The downside is that you can’t guarantee they’ll use the money to pay the debt.

Will paying off someone else’s debt hurt my credit?

Possibly. If you assume legal liability for their debt, it will show up on your credit file and could negatively impact your score. It’s a good idea to check your credit score before making any decisions to see if you can handle any potential drop.

If you’re having trouble getting your credit score to a number you’re happy with, consider a credit repair service to help.

What happens to debt when someone dies?

When someone dies, their assets are usually used to pay for any credit card debt they solely owe. Once all the estate left behind is sold, the remaining debt is said to have died with the deceased and there is nothing creditors can do to recover it. Family members and even partners are not responsible for any of the debt remaining. However, in cases where the deceased had a guarantor for their credit card, the guarantor will be accountable for the debt.

Should a joint credit cardholder die leaving a debt for which a partner is jointly responsible, the surviving partner will be required to clear the credit card debt on their own. If the deceased signed the credit agreement on their own, their partner cannot be liable for any credit card debt left behind — even if they were an additional cardholder and had a hand in the build-up of existing overdrafts and loans.

Family members or partners of the deceased can only be accountable for his debt if they were co-signatories in the debt or if they had made an agreement, be it written or verbal, to repay the debt on behalf of the deceased.

What to do if a debt collector is calling about an overdue balance on a joint account.

Unfortunately, if your name is on the account, you’re liable for the debt — even if you aren’t the one who spent it. Read our guide to dealing with debt collectors for more information on what next steps to take.

Bottom line

Being forced to carry the liability for someone else’s credit card debt can put a strain on you financially and even ruin your credit rating. By knowing how you can protect yourself from irresponsible card users, who may misuse your credit facility and leave you in financial ruin, you can ensure that you are left in control of your credit card debt and that you are able to dispute any debt that you are wrongly asked to take care of.

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