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Marriage can mean combining many things, including a household, checking and savings accounts, and a monthly budget—but not credit reports. Married couples always maintain separate credit reports after they've tied the knot, even if one spouse takes the other's name. That means that if your spouse has poor credit or issues like bankruptcy and foreclosure in their past, those issues do not automatically carry over to your credit file.
In fact, the trend is for married people to have higher credit scores than single people. According to Experian data from Q2 2019, married consumers had an average credit score of 715, while single consumers' average score was 656.
Getting married does mean it's more likely you'll make financial decisions with a partner, and that both of your credit profiles will determine the types of financial products you can qualify for together. But you'll always have your own credit report based on your credit history. Here's what you need to know.
Married Couples Have Separate Credit Reports
Everyone has their own credit report, even after marriage. Each individual's credit history contains only the information that is reported in their name, including payment history for accounts for which they've cosigned.
When you change your last name, you must update your information with the Social Security Administration, on your government ID and passport, and with each of your financial account holders. When your lenders report your accounts in your new name, Experian will match it to your existing history and update their information. But taking your spouse's name does not mean your credit histories will be combined. The only time an account will appear on both of your credit reports is if you open a joint account or cosign a loan together.
Can Marriage Affect Your Credit Score?
It's important to remember that marriage does not directly affect your credit, and marital status is not included in your credit report. A spouse's accounts and credit history prior to the marriage will not be added to your credit report after you are married, unless your name is added to those accounts.
Your account history will not be added to their report either—unless you add them as a joint owner on your accounts. If you do have joint accounts in both of your names, then the payment history on that account will affect both of your credit scores. Marriage can affect your credit if your spouse is responsible for paying your joint monthly car loan bill, for example, but misses the payment; in that case, your credit score will suffer too. That's also true if you cosign for a spouse's student loan and they fall behind on payments.
On the other hand, you or your spouse might benefit from becoming a joint account holder on the other's accounts if one of you has especially good credit. This can be important if you will apply for joint accounts in the future that will require both of your incomes and credit history to qualify, such as a car loan or mortgage.
What to Do if Your Spouse Has a Poor Credit Score
There are ways to support your spouse if they're struggling with poor credit. To start, encourage them to get a free copy of their credit report to view all their accounts and payment history. That can help you both identify which areas to focus on, such as making payments on time, lowering debt balances or lengthening credit history.
Getting your free credit scores can help both of you improve your credit. It can also help you understand which behaviors or accounts are affecting credit scores most. Many credit card issuers, banks and lenders offer customers scores for free; other personal finance websites and financial institutions also provide free score monitoring to non-customers. A good goal for you and your spouse should be to reach a score of 670 or higher; that's considered a good score by the FICO® Score☉ model, and will qualify you for more financial products at lower interest rates.
A few key ways to improve credit are to automate monthly payments so your spouse doesn't forget them, and to pay down debts to lower credit utilization, or the amount of debt outstanding compared to the credit limit. Your spouse will save the most money if they target the highest-interest debts first, using the debt avalanche method, but they may feel more accomplished if they pay off smaller debts one by one using the debt snowball method.
What to Remember About Marriage and Credit
Marriage will not automatically merge two people's credit histories. But it does open up the possibility that you'll see effects to your credit if you cosign a loan or open other joint accounts with a spouse. Make sure to take into account any immediate or potential impact to your credit before going forward with any financial decisions in your marriage.