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,” asking how marriage and credit impact each other. Seems K has a high credit score but soon-to-be “Mr. K” doesn’t. She wondered if marrying this gentleman would hurt her. The short answer is, “no.”

You each have separate credit scores and remain in your own credit score range. If you apply for credit separately from your spouse, nobody is ever going to know about his credit score and his bad credit won’t affect you. And your good credit won’t help Mr. K’s either. This is the case even if you change your last name. You have your own credit reports with your own credit history and nothing — not even marriage– changes that.

Get your free credit score with no credit card expense and without signing up for trials.

But you may not always apply separately for credit. When you apply jointly, his credit scores do affect the outcome. You might be rejected or get approved, but with higher interest rates than if you had applied separately. And remember, if you apply jointly, you are jointly responsible to make the payments. That means if your spouse doesn’t make the payments he promised to make, the creditors will come looking for you.

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

If your spouse has a bad credit history you have three objectives:

a. Help him build a good credit history.

b. Safeguard your own credit score.

c. Build a 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 you see 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 fiancée 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. If he has a debt issue, I would definitely suggest he start using a debt snowball spreadsheet.

Related Posts:

Why, When and How to Separate Finances in Marriage

Convince Your Spouse You Need A Budget

Outside Posts:

CNN- How to Prevent Your Spouse’s Bad Credit from Ruining Yours



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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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