Marriage and Credit – How to Protect Yourself When Your Spouse Has Bad Credit

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

I recently received an e-mail from a loyal Pilgrim, “K” .  She wanted to know how her credit would be impacted if she married a guy with some serious credit baggage.  The short answer is, it depends.

Everyone has their own separate credit scores and a unique credit situation. If “K” gets married to a man with poor credit it won’t hurt her going forward as long as she keeps her credit separated from her spouse. And her good credit won’t help Mr. K’s either. This is the case even if she changes her last name. She has her own credit reports with her own credit history and nothing — not even marriage– changes that.

The problem is of course that over time, couples tend to merge finances.  And if they for credit jointly, it’s going to hurt their chances of being offered good rates.  On top of that, if “K” applies for credit with her husband, she’ll be responsible for that debt.  Since he doesn’t have a great track record with money, she should certainly take that into consideration before making any long-term financial commitments.

How to use this information to protect yourself and help your spouse or fiancée:

If your spouse has a bad credit history you should do each of the following:

a. Help him build a good credit history.

b. Safeguard your own credit score.

c. Build a strong joint financial life together.

marriage and credit

The best way to do accomplish all three objectives is to start slowly when applying for credit together, “K”, When you do apply jointly, make sure the limits are low and make sure to review the credit card statements each month. If you need credit for a major purchase, apply separately and control the payments yourself.

Of course, for me, a bigger concern is marrying into credit card debt hell. “K” didn’t ask for this advice, but I’m going to provide it anyway. If your fiancee still struggles with spending more than he earns, consider delaying the wedding until he gets it together. If he’s still digging a credit debt hole, help him get out before you say, “I do.”

The first step I’d take is to show him what his credit score range is now. I’d then show him how to get out of credit card debt. Then, I’d show him how to use software that tracks spending and review the budget every week.  What would you do if you were in “K’s” situation?



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia December 10, 2010 at 7:03 AM

I think you’re right on about waiting to marry. The only good thing is he was honest with her upfront, but once they’re married and if children come on the scene, finances become very complex.

If they can approach this as a team effort with the suggestions you mentioned, and not by her bailing him out, and work through this together it will only strengthen their relationship.

If he is unwilling to make big changes it is better she know that upfront. If he can’t sacrifice now, he won’t be able to when life gets really heavy.


FJ December 8, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Great advice on holding until the debts are settled before marriage. If she loves him now with all that debt, she is only going to love him more when all that debt is gone!!


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