Credit Card Basics for Couples

  1. Most experts recommend having two to five cards total: one or two joint cards and one to three cards in your own name. With a joint card, you’ll only have to pay the fixed costs (like annual fees) once. Be sure to agree on a monthly limit for each of you that’s within your budget. Then keep separate cards (listing the other person as an authorized user), so you have your own financial identity.

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  2. Don't Start Fresh

    Leaving singledom may feel like the perfect opportunity to start over, but opt for a new haircut instead of closing down your credit cards. Canceling multiple cards can have a negative effect on your credit rating, especially if yours isn’t great. And if you’re thinking of transferring your balance to a card with 0 percent, be sure you know the score: Many of these cards will offer 0 percent for balance transfers or purchases, but you won’t get 0 percent for both. And that can be costly.
  3. Pick the Right Rewards

    Choose a rewards system that matches your spending habits. Some people like to put it toward travel; others would prefer cash-back programs. Use online rewards program comparison tools like or to figure out which best suits your lifestyle. But remember: You don't have to sign up for a card with rewards. They often charge higher interest rates and annual fees, and may not be worth it if you don’t use your card a lot.

    More on how to choose the right rewards for you

  4. Read the Fine Print

    They call it fine print for a reason -- because it’s a pain to read. Instead, call up the company and ask all the right questions: What’s the interest rate, and will it change next year? What’s the annual fee? If I pay off the balance in the first 10 days of the month, am I going to be charged interest anyway? And don't be afraid to negotiate. If you have good credit, ask, “Can you offer me a lower interest rate or annual fee? I have good credit and know I can find a better deal.” The worst they can do is say no.

  5. Avoid Retail Store Cards

    They usually come with a high interest rate (APR), which tend to work against you (you'll probably pay more in interest than you save at the store). The offers of extended warranties, discounts, and customer services also usually aren’t worth the higher interest and fees. An exception: If you're unable to get a major credit card from anywhere else, having a retail store card is one way you can establish credit.

    Nestperts: Boyce Watkins, PhD, finance professor at Syracuse University and author of Financial Lovemaking 101; Gene Fitzpatrick, V.P. of lending for Numerica Credit Union; and Dmitry Lev, Esq., a bankruptcy and tax attorney in Boston