March 1, 2004
Q: My mother has gotten several credit cards in my name and has defaulted on them, which has ruined my credit. She got one when I was 17 and another last year when I was 26. She got the last one saying [it was] to improve my credit, but she has not kept up the payments. I am the primary cardholder, but she had the cards. Is there anything I can do besides paying them myself?
–N. BakerTallahassee, FL
A: The first thing you want to do is close the accounts! At the very least, it’ll prevent your mom from using the accounts and stop further damage to both of your credit profiles. If you choose to keep the accounts open, contact the credit card companies in writing requesting that they remove your mother as an authorized user. In addition, you have the right to include an explanation on your credit report, alerting creditors to the circumstances surrounding the accounts.
However, as the primary cardholder, you are liable for the debts in question. “What this illustrates is that before you cosign for another person or add a person as an authorized user on your account, you have to think it through and understand that if he or she defaults, you’ve essentially entered into a joint account arrangement, so you’re responsible,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com.
Since you are responsible, don’t delay in making payments. Call the credit card companies and try to negotiate to pay off the debts. Once you’ve made the agreements, get everything in writing. Despite her track record, perhaps your mother can help with making payments as well.