6 Infuriating Ways You're Ruining Someone Else's Credit


Your credit score is one of the biggest deciding factors in your financial health. It influences whether you qualify for the best interest rates on mortgages or auto loans, it can impact your insurance rates, and it can even determine whether you land that dream job or not.

Establishing good credit requires managing your credit accounts responsibly. But your own credit score isn't the only one that can suffer the consequences of poor credit management. In the same way money can ruin a friendship, your financial carelessness could ruin someone else's credit. Here's how.

1. Charging up someone else's credit card

Becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card helps build your own credit history. You'll receive a credit card in your name, and you're allowed to make charges on the account. But even though your name is on the card and the account shows up on your credit report, only the primary account holder receives the statements. This person is ultimately responsible for any purchases you make with the card.

If you're an authorized user, the mature thing to do is pay whatever you charge each month. If you don't or can't pay, this sets in motion a chain of events that could ruin the other person's credit.

Any purchases you charge to the account can raise the primary account holder's balance and increase their credit utilization ratio beyond a healthy range (utilization ratio is the credit card balance compared to the credit limit). Ideally, credit utilization should never exceed 30 percent of a credit limit — the lower, the better. A high utilization ratio can lower credit scores.

In addition, ringing up charges on someone's credit card and not paying what you owe could trigger payment problems. This can happen if the primary user doesn't have enough money for higher minimum payments. If they can't pay the credit card bill within 30 days, the credit card company could report the late payment to the credit bureaus. While a 30-day delinquency won't tank a credit score, if it's longer than that, the damage is more serious — at which point, you'd better run.

2. Defaulting on a co-signed loan

Maybe you're getting a car loan and need a co-signer. If you have no credit or bad credit, a co-signer can help you qualify for financing. But if you don't uphold your end of the bargain by making on-time payments (or if you stop paying altogether), your actions affect both of your scores.

Co-signers become responsible for loan payments when a primary signer can no longer make payments to the lender (which is why I would never, ever cosign for anyone). If you default on a loan and your co-signer can't take over the loan payments, the delinquency appears on both of your credit reports and remains there for up to seven years. (See also: Is It Ever Okay to Cosign a Loan?)

3. Bailing on shared expenses

Skipping out on a shared or joint expense, like a lease or a mortgage, is another way to ruin someone else's credit. If you move out abruptly after getting into a fight with your roommate or partner, and you refuse to cough up your half for joint expenses, the other person must come up with the cash or else risk an eviction, breach of contract lawsuit, or foreclosure. All three scenarios can destroy both of your credit scores.

A similar issue can occur if you bail on a joint utility bill. If the account goes unpaid, the utility company will send the information to a collections agency. Collection accounts remain on credit reports for up to seven years — but your friend's urge to punch you square in the nose will last a lifetime.

4. Pressuring friends to spend money

Financial peer pressure gets many people into trouble. Whether you realize it or not, you could be guilty of driving your friends to spend money they don't have. Of course, everyone is responsible for their own finances. But if you push a "You only live once" attitude on others, or if you constantly entice your friends to spend outside their budgets, they could succumb to the pressure and use credit to finance keeping up with you.

5. Ignoring a parking ticket in a borrowed car

Don't hide or ignore a parking ticket you get in someone else's car. Even if there's no way to identify the actual driver at the time of the violation, the parking ticket is tied to the owner's license plate and they will owe any fines you incur. If the parking ticket goes unpaid, a negative mark can appear on the car owner's credit report.

6. Blowing off library fines

On the off chance you go to the library and check out a book using someone else's library card, return the book on time and pay any late fines you owe. Some cities report these unpaid fines to collection agencies, which can cause a negative mark on the library cardholder's credit report. In all likelihood, it's just a few bucks we're talking about here, which makes the situation particularly annoying.

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