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Marrying someone with poor or damaged credit does not affect your credit scores. But if you and your spouse plan to seek credit jointly, their low credit score could affect your ability to get a loan, or lead to higher interest charges than you'd get if you applied yourself.
What Happens to Your Credit When You Get Married?
When you get married, you and your spouse retain your individual credit reports and the credit scores derived from them. The only potential change to either of your credit reports is updating your name or address, if necessary. Such changes to the personal information section of your credit report have no bearing on your credit scores, and marital status is not recorded on your credit reports, so tying the knot has no effect on your credit eligibility.
While it has no bearing on credit history, marriage can affect both of your credit futures. It's common for married couples to apply jointly for certain loans—mortgages being perhaps the most common example. A joint application allows a lender to consider both spouse's incomes when evaluating ability to repay the loan, which may allow a couple to borrow more money than either could individually.
With a joint application, however, the lender considers both applicants' credit histories and credit scores, for better or worse. That means that, even if your credit is excellent, your spouse's low credit score could mean you'd be charged a relatively high interest rate on the loan—or, possibly, that your application would be denied altogether.
For this reason, before you apply for credit with a spouse who has a low credit score, you may want to work with your spouse to rebuild their credit (see suggestions below on how to do so). In the meantime, apply individually for any smaller loans or credit cards you can qualify for on your own, in order to get the best interest rates you can.
Does Getting Married Combine Your Credit Reports?
No, there is no such thing as a joint credit report. After marriage, your credit report remains your own and your spouse's remains theirs.
If you and your spouse take out credit jointly after your marriage, the debt balance and payment history for all joint accounts will appear on both of your credit reports.
If, after marriage, you open a new credit account in your name only using your credit history and income information, the new account's debt and payment history will only appear on your credit report. The same would be true of an account your spouse opened in their name after your marriage. As discussed below, however, in some states both spouses have equal legal responsibility for any new credit account opened after marriage, whether it was obtained jointly or individually.
When You Get Married, Does Your Spouse's Debt Become Yours?
No, you do not take on your spouse's debt in marriage. If you or your spouse has debt at the time of the marriage, legal responsibility for those obligations remains with each of you individually. That's not to say that you and your spouse can't pool resources to pay down debts—a tactic that might be helpful in sprucing up low credit scores in preparation for a joint credit application.
Debt acquired during marriage may be a different story. If you live in a state with community property laws—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Alaska (where you have the option to opt in on community property rules)—you and your spouse are mutually responsible for debt taken on during the marriage. That's the case whether the debt was applied for and issued to both parties jointly, or obtained by either spouse individually.
In a community property state, a lender can file suit against both spouses if payments aren't made on time. And in case of divorce, financial obligations may be shared equally, even for debts only one spouse accrued, agreed to or even knew about.
In non-community property states, also known as common law property states, each spouse remains liable for individual debts acquired during the marriage, except in the case of debt applied toward essential expenses for the family. If a debt is acquired jointly, both parties are equally responsible for repayment.
How to Help Your Spouse With Bad Credit
Here are some suggestions for remedying a spouse's bad credit and addressing the underlying issues that might have prompted it:
- Understand the problem. Pull your individual credit reports for free, and check your credit scores, which typically include a list of risk factors that are most responsible for lowering your score. If your scores are in good shape, then these risk factors aren't doing much harm. But if your score is less than good, risk factors can help identify problems to prioritize to bring up scores.
- Develop a plan of action. Once you understand the situation, take steps to reverse the damage to your spouse's credit scores. If need be, put credit cards aside to allow for paying down high balances and lowering credit utilization rates. If there are collection accounts, make a plan to pay them off as quickly as possible. If there's a pattern of late payments, devise a strategy for making sure all bills are paid on time. Try to be supportive and non-judgmental, taking a team approach to shoring up your shared financial future.
- Regroup and review regularly. Schedule regular sessions for financial check-ins, ideally the same day each month. Use the time to review your outstanding debts, to check your credit scores and review the status of your efforts to improve them. If you stick to your plan, you should see gradual improvement, possibly starting within a few months. Consider following each session with a fun activity so it isn't just seen as a chore.
- Get at the root of the problem. Once you've begun stemming the damage, have an honest discussion with your spouse about what led to the bad credit. There are many potential causes, including impulsive overspending, a lack of sufficient emergency savings and a basic misunderstanding how behaviors affect credit history and credit scores. A variety of emotional and psychological issues can contribute as well. Work on addressing those underlying causes and, if appropriate, seek help from a certified credit counselor or a professional therapist.
- Make your spouse an authorized user. Once your spouse has embraced good credit habits, consider adding them as an authorized user on one of your credit cards with an excellent payment history. Moderate regular usage of the card and, ideally, payment of the balance in full each month, will add beneficial on-time payments to both your credit history and your spouse's, promoting improvement in both of your credit scores.
- Consider Experian Boost®ø. Another potential way of bolstering your spouse's credit history is to enroll them in Experian Boost, a free feature that lets them share payment history on a variety of expenses that aren't traditionally reported on credit reports, such as cellphone and utility bills, streaming subscriptions and rent paid online. Timely payments of those bills can benefit FICO® Scores☉ based on Experian credit data. (Late payments on those bills, if there were any in the past, are ignored.)
The Bottom Line
By making sound credit management part of your marital commitment, you and your spouse can eventually work to heal even the most severely damaged credit. Negative credit report entries that hurt credit scores expire within seven to 10 years—and their negative impact on your credit score lessens considerably over that time. Patience, steady habits and the support of a loving spouse can help build sound credit and a solid financial future. Regularly checking each of your credit scores free from Experian can help you mark your progress.