How to Deal With Credit Cards When You Get Married

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When you get married, it's best to keep old credit cards open despite your potential new financial arrangements. That's because closing accounts can negatively affect your credit score. It's also smart to maintain a financial identity independent of your spouse's if you need to access credit on your own in the future.

Closing a credit card account reduces your total available credit, making any balances you currently carry take up a higher percentage of your credit limit. That can leave you with a less favorable credit utilization ratio, one of the most important factors in your credit score. Older accounts also show a longer history of responsibly handling credit, which can help your score, although this is less of an immediate concern because accounts closed in good standing will factor into your average for 10 years.

Here's how to handle your existing credit cards when you get married, and how to address other common questions about credit after the wedding.

How Does Marriage Affect Your Credit?

The act of getting married won't alter your credit file or directly affect your credit scores. You and your spouse will continue to have separate credit reports that reflect your individual histories borrowing money and paying it back.

If one or both of you change your last name, you'll need to let your credit card issuers and lenders know. Once you do this, the credit bureaus will automatically update the name on your credit reports. You won't get a new, blank report attached to your new name.

You also won't immediately take on responsibility for paying off existing debt your spouse carries. But if you accrue joint debt—such as acquiring a mortgage together—it will appear on both of your credit reports. That means any late or missed payments will hurt credit scores for both of you.

Depending on where you live, some of your spouse's individual debt may eventually become yours if you divorce. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin), a court may determine that the repayment of debt one spouse took on during the marriage is now the responsibility of both spouses.

Should You Open a Credit Card Together?

When you commit to each other, you may consider whether that also means combining your finances. The decision to open joint accounts or borrow money together is one that should not be made lightly as it can be a hassle to undo.

You may choose to keep your finances entirely separate, or to open a single checking account to pay shared bills. In some cases, like when you try for a mortgage, approval may come easier with two incomes listed on the application.

You're not obligated to share a credit card with your spouse, though doing so can be advantageous to one or both of you. If one spouse is trying to build credit, for instance, they can join the other's credit card account as an authorized user. With this arrangement, an authorized user can make purchases, but the primary user is responsible for all debt that's incurred. The authorized user will also benefit from their spouse's past positive account history.

Opening a joint credit card account will be difficult because it's such a rare perk today. If you divorce, it may be complex to remove a cosigner from the account without closing it and opening a new one outright.

No matter which route you take, make regular conversations about your financial attitudes, behaviors, concerns and future plans an ongoing part of your relationship. That can help you avoid incurring individual or shared debt beyond what you can pay back, and it can help you prioritize saving for shared goals instead.

Communicate Honestly From the Start

Along with figuring out whether to open or maintain credit accounts after the wedding, exploring your experiences with money and attitudes toward it will have a big impact on your individual and shared financial health.

Discuss with your partner any debt you're bringing into the marriage, whether it's from credit cards, student loans or other sources. Make plans to pay it down. Talk about how you plan to budget as a couple and how you'll decide to make big purchases. Just like in other parts of your relationship, transparency and trust are the biggest contributors to the strength of your shared finances.