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

Know the risks before becoming a guarantor or opening a joint credit card.

Though most people don’t realize it, you can 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 consequences.

When are you accountable for someone else’s debt?

There are three main situations where 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 you 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 repay.
  • 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, 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 it 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

Helping someone pay off their credit card debt comes with risks, including financial stress and possible damage to your credit score. 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 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 cannot 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 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 want to help a close friend or family member in debt without risking your own credit, you can send them money to pay the debt. You aren’t assuming legal liability for the debt, but 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 shows up on your credit file and could negatively impact your score. Before making any decisions, check your credit score to see if you can handle any potential drop.

If you’re having trouble increasing your credit score, 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 is sold, the remaining debt dies 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 is accountable for the debt.

Should a joint credit cardholder die, the surviving partner is required to clear any jointly held debt. But if the deceased signed the credit agreement alone, their partner cannot be liable for any debt left behind — even if they were an additional cardholder and contributed to the debt.

Family members or partners of the deceased can only be accountable for the 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 the 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 protecting yourself from irresponsible card users, you can retain control of your credit card debt and dispute any debt that you are wrongly asked to repay.

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