What Happens to Your Credit When You Get Married?

Young couple embracing in garden during wedding reception

Getting married does not change your credit file or your spouse's, but both partners' credit health can impact future efforts to borrow money or share credit-card accounts as a couple.

That's why, well before you say "I do"—and at regular intervals afterward—you and your partner should put all your financial records on the table. That includes savings, salaries, investments, real estate and especially credit. Review your credit reports together so you both know where you stand, and to help prevent unpleasant surprises in the future.

If one of you has a less-than-glowing credit history, it will affect both of you once you start applying for loans together, opening joint accounts or taking on any other joint debts.

How Does Marriage Affect Credit?

Marriage has no effect at all on your credit reports or the credit scores based upon them because the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) do not include marital status in their records.

Your borrowing and payment history—and your spouse's—remain the same before and after your wedding day. There is no such thing as a couple's credit report or score, but individual credit histories and credit scores for both spouses are considered whenever the couple applies for a loan together.

Does Marrying Someone With Bad Credit Affect Your Score?

While marriage in and of itself has no impact on credit scores, common practices of married couples—seeking joint car loans or mortgages, opening joint credit card accounts, or adding a spouse as a cardholder on individual accounts—can affect both spouses' future credit. Each borrower on any joint loan or account is equally responsible for repaying associated debts, so usage and payment activity on those accounts is reflected in both spouses' credit reports and scores (for better or for worse).

Each spouse's individual credit history also can affect the cost of joint loans and credit cards. Borrowing jointly allows lenders to consider both spouses' income when determining the amount they're willing to lend, but if one spouse's credit is significantly worse than the other's, lenders may charge more in interest and fees than the spouse with good credit could otherwise get on their own. Of course, applying for a loan with a single income might only qualify a borrower for a lower loan amount than the couple could get jointly, as well.

Even worse, if one spouse's credit is extremely poor, as might be the case following a bankruptcy filing or mortgage foreclosure, the couple might not qualify for a joint loan at all, even if the other spouse has very good credit.

Will Changing Your Name Impact Your Credit?

Taking your spouse's surname when you get married will not affect your credit, but you should notify your existing creditors and the Social Security Administration about the name change. You do not need to notify the credit bureaus; they will update your name on your credit report when creditors start reporting activity under your new name. When that happens, your old name will be added as a name by which you were formerly known—an alias.

Check your credit reports within a few months of notifying your creditors of your new name. In the unlikely event that your name hasn't been updated on your credit file, or has been updated incorrectly, you can file a dispute with the necessary credit bureau or bureaus to get the record corrected.

Do You Share Debt When You Get Married?

Debts you and your spouse acquired before marriage remain your individual responsibilities. After marriage, you'll undoubtedly assume some joint debts, but the extent and nature of those debts can depend on the state you call home. The so-called "community property" states—Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin, along with Alaska, which lets couples opt in to community property rules—consider both spouses equally responsible for all assets and debts acquired in the course of the marriage. That includes debts and other liabilities racked up by either spouse, even if the other spouse is unaware.

Residents of the remaining states, as well as Alaskans who choose not to opt in to community property rules, follow "common law" rules, under which spouses can assume debts and own property as individuals but also take on joint debts that benefit both parties (and any children) as a family.

Should You Merge Your Credit Accounts?

Once you've shared your credit histories with each other, you and your spouse will need to decide whether or not to merge all your financial accounts. Many couples do so because consolidated accounts can simplify record-keeping and make it easier to prepare joint tax returns. When considering whether to combine your finances, it's good to keep the following in mind:

  • Both of you will be responsible for all debt incurred in any joint credit accounts.
  • Regardless of who incurs the debt, a missed payment on a joint account will negatively affect both of partners' credit reports.
  • If either spouse misses a payment on their individual account, that may impact your ability to borrow jointly.

If you decide to consolidate your accounts, you might want to keep at least one credit account in your own name as a safeguard in the event of an emergency. (No one likes to think of this, but keeping an individual account can also be helpful in the event of divorce, as it can be a good basis for rebuilding your credit history.)

The key to successful credit management as a couple is understanding that individual credit behavior can affect both partners.