New Spouse’s Old Debt Won’t Hurt Your Credit Score

Couple having champagne together

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Dear Experian,

If I have a very good credit score and I marry someone with a bad credit score and previous debt, does that affect my credit score?

- DTR

Dear DTR,

Getting married does not directly affect your credit scores or your individual credit reports. Experian will continue to maintain separate credit reports for you and your new spouse. Your spouse's previous bad credit history will not be merged with your credit history. However, that doesn't mean your new spouse's credit history and scores won't impact credit decisions you make together.

Joint Accounts Will Show on Both Reports

If you become a joint account holder on any of the accounts your spouse held prior to the marriage, the missed payments will show up on your report as well. As a joint account holder, you agree to share full responsibility for the debt.

The same is true for new accounts you open as joint holders during the marriage. Any accounts that list both you and your future spouse as account holders will affect both your report and theirs, regardless of who uses the account or pays the bills.

Even though you maintain separate credit histories, your spouse's previous bad credit could affect your ability to qualify for new loans together. Lenders will take the credit histories of both applicants into account when reviewing joint applications, so those late payments could affect your ability to qualify for something like a mortgage.

Your credit reports will still be separate, but working together to improve your new spouse's credit history will benefit both of you in the long run.

How Can You Help Your Future Spouse Improve Their Credit?

Late payments and most other negative information will remain on a credit report for seven years, but your future spouse can begin improving their credit history right away. Here are some steps anyone can take to rehabilitate their credit:

  • Bring current any past-due accounts. Your payment history is the most important element in any credit score, so be sure to pay off any past-due debts and make sure all accounts are current.
  • Pay down credit card balances. Your credit utilization ratio measures how much of your available credit you're using on revolving credit accounts such as credit cards. It's an important factor in your credit scores, so paying down your revolving account balances can increase scores right away. Ideally, you should pay your credit card balances in full every month.
  • Order your free credit report. If you haven't already done so, order your credit reports and review them carefully. You can get a free report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also order your free Experian report anytime on our website.
  • Request your credit score as well. You can get your free credit score directly from Experian. It will include a list of the top risk factors that are negatively impacting you. Focusing on those specific risk factors will help you understand what changes you can make to improve your scores.
  • Enroll in Experian Boost . You can now get credit for paying your utility, cellphone, and streaming service bills on time by adding those payments to your credit report with Experian Boost. You will receive a FICO 8 Score at the start of the signup process and an updated FICO 8 Score when you complete the process, so you can see how much your score improved.

Talk to Your Spouse About Credit and Finances

Bad credit isn't necessarily a reason to not get married, but financial stress can cause a marriage to fail. It's always a good idea to have a serious conversation about your credit and finances prior to the wedding day. Since you will likely be applying for accounts jointly in the future, you want to be aware of where you both stand and how you differ in your approaches to financial management.

Doing so can help minimize conflict and stress after the honeymoon is over.

Thanks for asking.
Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist

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