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As you prepare to say "I do," you may wonder how getting married might affect your credit score. Maybe you've heard that your credit report will merge with your spouse's, or that you'll automatically become responsible for each other's debts.
Spoiler alert: Neither of these are true.
Marriage doesn't have any direct impact on your credit report, although it may alter how you and your spouse manage credit. Here are five credit myths to know before you say your vows, plus some tips on managing credit and debt as a couple.
Myth: Credit Reports Merge When You Get Married
Have you been told that you receive a new "marriage credit report" when you get married, where both spouses' reports merge into one neat file? This is a myth.
You keep your own credit report and score when you get married, and neither spouse's individual credit history directly impacts the other's. That means one spouse's good credit score won't automatically boost the other's, but it also means that one spouse's credit problems, such as a delinquency or bankruptcy, won't damage the other's score simply because they tie the knot.
Fact: Cosigning Credit With a Spouse Can Impact Your Score
Married couples keep separate credit histories, and getting married doesn't link your scores. But couples can affect each other's scores if they apply for shared credit, such as a mortgage or auto loan, or if they make one another authorized users on their credit cards.
Applying for credit together can lead to an inquiry appearing on both spouses' reports, and activity such as on-time or late payments or high balances on any joint accounts will be reflected in both spouses' scores. In addition, if one spouse has poor credit, it's possible that their low score could prevent the couple from receiving the best rates or even lead to their credit application getting denied.
Myth: Getting Married Boosts Your Credit Score
If you've heard that getting married results in an automatic credit score boost, you may be disappointed that this isn't the case. Getting married won't have any direct impact on your credit at all—for better or for worse.
Fact: Your Credit Score Isn't Affected by Your Marital Status
Your credit score is based on your history of borrowing and repaying credit as reflected in your credit report. The primary factors that go into calculating your score are your record of making timely payments, the age of your credit and your credit utilization ratio.
Your marital status (along with other personal information such as your ethnicity, religion and employment status) don't appear on your credit report and therefore won't affect your credit score.
Myth: Changing Your Name Creates a New Credit History
For soon-to-weds planning to change their last name, don't believe the claim that changing your name will wipe out your credit history and leave you with a blank report. It's a myth: Changing your name won't mess with your credit file.
Fact: Changing Your Name Does Not Create a New Credit History
Changing your name won't erase your credit report or impact it at all. Credit reporting agencies use various pieces of personally identifiable information, including your Social Security number, to keep distinct records of your borrowing history. So, even if you change your name, your credit file will remain the same.
This may be a disappointment if you were hoping for a fresh start, but it's still possible to rebuild your credit.
Myth: All Your Accounts Automatically Become Joint When You Marry
When it comes to credit accounts, "what's mine is yours" doesn't always apply. The idea that getting married automatically joins your credit accounts so that both spouses share ownership and liability is a myth. In reality, individuals keep their own credit accounts when they marry.
Fact: Couples Can Choose to Open Joint Accounts
You and your spouse can choose to open joint checking accounts and credit accounts if you want to. For example, you could take out a joint auto loan or apply for a mortgage together, making you both equal owners and equally liable for the debt.
For couples where one person has a high credit score and the other needs to build credit, applying for credit jointly can help the lower score grow. This is especially key if you plan to buy a home together down the line, as lenders will consider both scores when determining your mortgage rate.
Ultimately, though, deciding whether to keep your accounts separate or make them joint is a personal decision that a couple can make based on mutual goals and comfort levels.
Myth: You're Responsible for All Your Spouse's Debt
If one partner has a student loan balance that raises the other's blood pressure, or if one has a credit card balance that they want to tackle on their own, both spouses may be a little queasy at the thought of joining debts in joining their hands.
Fortunately, neither spouse is liable for individual debts incurred only by the other prior to marriage. Debt incurred during marriage may be treated differently, however.
Fact: You're Responsible for Debts in Your Name
Even if you're married, you're usually only responsible for debts in your name. That means that you're responsible for paying down your debt, and your payment history won't hurt your spouse's credit, and vice versa.
Still, your spouse's debt could be in your name if you choose to sign on a loan together. Keep in mind that when you sign together, you're liable for the debt, and your liability doesn't disappear if you split up. You can also be on the hook for their charges if your spouse is an authorized user on your credit card account.
Another wrinkle is the fact that in community property states, debt is considered an equal liability and is split along with assets in the event of a divorce. The nine community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin.
Discuss Credit Before You Tie the Knot
Getting married has no direct impact on your score, but how you manage credit as a couple might. That's why it's important to discuss your thoughts on marriage, credit and debt with your partner.
Some couples choose to join finances together when they say "I do"—pooling income, budgeting and saving together. Some consolidate debt together, which can open the door to lower rates if one partner has a high score and bring the couple closer to their debt payoff goals, freeing up funds to save toward a goal or invest for retirement. Other couples prefer to keep their finances at least partially separate.
While you're planning your wedding, make a plan for tracking your credit score. Experian's free credit monitoring gives you an overview of your credit report and score, complete with insights into your creditworthiness and suggestions for improving your score.