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Credit Cards

Joint credit cards

On Internet probate and debt forums you will find a lot of conflicting advice about joint credit cards. In the UK credit can only be offered to individuals so credit cards are never held jointly. The confusion on the Internet arises because joint credit cards are legal in America and several American sites give the impression of being UK advice sites (".co.uk") but actually are largely just mirror sites. The confusion is so widespread that even the UK Government website mentions joint cards.

In the UK one person is always responsible for the debt on a credit card and is known as the Primary Cardholder. If there are more individuals authorised to use the card they are known as "secondary cardholders" and they have no liability for the debt on the credit card, even though their name will be on a card and they have used it to buy goods.

You will probably need to find a statement or original agreement to tell whose name the card was in.

If the deceased was the primary cardholder

You should look for evidence of a Payment Protection Policy which may clear the credit card balance in the event of death.

You should be aware that "continuous authority" payments are possible on credit cards - the equivalent of Direct Debits. You should check twelve months' statements for these because they will be cancelled as soon as the credit card provider is informed.

You should write to the provider, ask for the account to be closed and the balance frozen, request a closing balance and either return all cards or confirm they have been destroyed. Although you have asked for the balance to be frozen it may continue to attract interest which the estate will be responsible for. Some credit card providers will offer a short interest free period following notification of death. For instance Barclaycard Mastercard will allow an outstanding debt for three months before applying charges. You may want to pay off the balance on any cards which continue to accrue interest as soon as possible.

If the deceased was a secondary cardholder

Write to the provider and request that the deceased's name is removed from the account. The Primary Cardholder can continue to use the card and is responsible for all debts on the card. None of the debts are the responsibility of the deceased's estate.

Charge cards

Charge cards are not covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 because they must be paid in full at the end of each month.

American Express - Supplementary cardholders are jointly responsible with the main cardholder only for the charges incurred by the supplementary cardholder. This means that part of the debt owed on an American Express card could be the responsibility of the deceased's estate and part could pass to the supplementary cardholder.

Diners Card - The main cardholder is responsible for all debts, including those incurred by any supplementary cardholders.

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