Credit Card Piggybacking Can Help You Build Your Credit, But You Need to Be Careful

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Credit card piggybacking is another term for becoming an authorized user on someone’s credit account, with the goal of building credit. But there are a few different ways to piggyback off someone else’s credit, and some are safer than others.

Most commonly when you are “piggybacking” to build credit, you’ll become an authorized user on a trusted friend or family member’s card account. Choose someone with responsible credit habits, and you can benefit from their good credit as you build your credit report. 

But if you don’t have a friend or loved one who will trust you to become an authorized user, you can also pay for the service. It’s much more risky, but some credit repair companies will connect you with a stranger’s card for the same credit-building purpose, for a fee.

While experts don’t recommend you pay a credit repair company to build credit, you might gain from becoming an authorized user on someone’s card if you do it carefully. Here’s what to keep in mind. 

What Is Piggybacking?

Piggybacking means becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card to help establish or raise your credit score. 

“If you don’t have any credit, or have very little, then this will give you additional content for your credit report,” says Summer Red, AFC®, education senior manager at Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. 

When you’re an authorized user, you’ll have access to a credit card linked to the primary user’s account, and you can charge purchases and use the card like you would any other credit card account. But while you may have a payment agreement with the primary account holder, they’re the only one responsible for making monthly payments. “Assuming that you’re an authorized user to somebody with a positive credit history and payments, that would be a plus for your credit score,” says Red. 

Another way to become an authorized user is by paying a credit repair company to connect you with a stranger and benefit from their positive payment history as an authorized user, though this can be ineffective, unsafe, and expensive. In fact, credit repair company BoostMyScore settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2020 after the agency accused the company of misleading customers with promises to “drastically and immediately” improve their credit and even qualify for mortgages, while charging thousands of dollars.

For most people, building credit through piggybacking is much safer and affordable if you do so with the help of friends and family, not credit repair companies.

How Does Piggybacking Work?

If you’re looking to build your credit via a family member or friend, you want to make sure their credit is in good standing and they already use their card responsibly. Then you can discuss the terms such as whether you’ll actually use the card or just attach your name to it for the credit-building. You’ll also want to make sure the card issuer reports authorized user information to the three credit bureaus — if the payment history isn’t reported, you won’t see any improvement to your credit.

The card holder gives their issuer any relevant information about you, and then you start building a credit history from the primary card holder’s usage on that card, without any legal requirement to pay bills.

“Becoming an authorized user is one of the traditional ways to establish credit for the first time for a lot of people, particularly young adults,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian

The card appears on your credit report and shows you as an authorized user. If the primary account holder falls behind on payments and the account is negative, your credit can consequently be negatively affected as an authorized user. In this case, Experian will remove the account from your history, says Griffin. 

The most impactful way being an authorized user helps your credit is through positive payment history, but it can affect other factors that influence your score too. Specifics vary, but you should see an improvement in your credit utilization ratio, meaning how much of your credit allowance you’re using. 

Talk to the primary card holder so you know how much credit they use monthly. “Your goal is to try to keep your credit utilization below 30%, and ideally below 10%,” says Red.

What Are the Risks of Piggybacking Off Family or Friends?

Family and friends are a better choice than strangers if you’re looking to hop onto someone else’s credit history, but keep in mind that relationships could suffer if things don’t go well.

“It’s that old axiom, ‘Be careful about doing business with friends and family, because things can happen,’” says Griffin. “Wouldn’t be of much benefit if they aren’t paying that bill on time, or have large amounts of debt on that account or a high utilization rate,” says Griffin. 

In this way, it can get a bit messy, says Red. “It’s one of the reasons why I would never want to recommend anybody give somebody a credit card that they are not required to pay. It’s like co-signing but worse.”

Credit Repair Companies

Paying a credit repair company to connect you with someone who lets you attach yourself to their credit history in exchange for a fee is a risk experts don’t recommend. 

“There’s some shady companies out there who are hooking up complete strangers, which I find a terrible idea on multiple levels,” says Red. “There are companies who will just say, ‘If you give us all your personal information, we will put you on a complete stranger’s card, and this complete stranger will help build your credit.’”

Not only are you opening yourself up to possible identity theft, but the practice also carries a high cost. “You could probably use the hundreds of dollars you’re spending for this so-called service to pay down the debt you owe,” says Griffin. 

Plus being an authorized user still wouldn’t really balance you if you have huge amounts of debt or delinquencies, says Griffin. “It’s a minimal impact in a positive direction, if any at all.”

Pro Tip

Before you try credit card piggybacking, you can explore other ways to build your credit report.

Should You Try Credit Piggybacking?

Becoming an authorized user with a trusted friend or family member can be a solid way to build your own credit. Over time, you’ll build your score and become eligible for your own card accounts, then use those to maintain responsible credit habits. 

“A person would build credit with other accounts and have their own history established by the time that authorized user account is removed,” says Griffin. “That new history would offset and kind of overtake that authorized user account,” he says. 

It can take about six months to get your first credit score, so you might have at least six months to a year of staying on the authorized user account.

You can also build your credit via new tools designed to help you get started. “Once a person has a credit history, it’s a foot in the door to help break cycles of predatory lending,” says Griffin.

For example, Experian Boost and TransUnion’s eCredable Lift help you add up to two years of payment history for your utilities and other regular bills, and FICO’s UltraFICO Score takes banking history and more alternative information into account, all of which can increase your credit score.

Note that different credit bureaus calculate your score differently, especially when you use these programs. Your lender might use information from a different credit bureau that has different scoring than the ones these methods affect.

You could also become a primary card holder, which counts for more on your credit score, with a secured credit card. “You can get a secured credit card where you basically give a security deposit to a bank or credit card and they put it into a bank account,” says Red. 

The issuer uses the deposit as collateral in case you don’t pay your balance, and you’ll typically get it back when you close your account in good standing or upgrade to an unsecured credit card once your score improves.

The important thing is to start building your credit before you’ll need it, says Red. 

“One of the big challenges I encounter is people who realize they need credit before they start building it. Since you can’t get a time machine and go back and build your credit, you have to start building before you really need it.”