How Does Marriage Affect Your Credit?

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When my partner and I first had the finance talk, I must admit—I was a little nervous. I didn’t have BAD credit but I was in the midst of credit building & was afraid that my mediocre credit scores would impact the way my partner viewed me and our ability to reach our financial goals together. I had heard a lot of myths about how marriage impacts your finances and wasn’t quite sure what to believe. Since immersing myself in the personal finance world, I’ve learned that a lot of my fear was due to misinformation and some of the most important truths about how marriage impacts your credit aren’t common knowledge. So let’s get to the truth with two simple questions. And, don’t worry, he still married me (and I’ve finally reached my credit goals).

  • What doesn’t affect my credit?
    • Marriage itself has zero impact on your credit report/score. Signing on that dotted line commits you to your partner, but not their credit history. Your score is based on your social security number so only your information will appear on the report unless you open a joint account.
    • Changing your name has no impact on your credit scores. Your new name will show up on your credit report but is not considered in your score.
  • What does affect my credit?
    • Anytime you apply for credit jointly, the lender will consider both credit scores. If your partner has poor credit, that is going to impact your rates negatively. This often shows up most problematically when applying for a mortgage. Often, couples need to use both incomes to qualify for the mortgage, but if one partner has a low credit score—that can disqualify you or lead to higher rates.
    • Once you have established joint accounts, any negative payment history or increased debt balances will affect both your credit scores. If you partner manages the finances and forgets to pay a bill, that missed payment will lower both your scores. This is particularly important considering the new FICO scoring model*, FICO 10, announced that missed payments will have a larger impact on your score than they have in the past.

Considering what does and doesn’t affect your credit score, how can you prepare yourself and your credit for marriage?

  1. Have “the talk” with your partner. If you haven’t already, have an open, honest conversation with your partner about finances. Discuss your credit history, how you manage your money (what are you good at? Where do you struggle?) and how you envision managing money as a couple.
  2. Come up with a credit-building plan. If you or your partner have a low credit score, work together to create a plan. Building credit takes time so it’s great to start now so that when you are ready to buy a new car or apply for a mortgage, your credit is healthy.
  3. Determine whether it makes sense to apply for credit jointly. If one partner has a much higher score, it may be in your best interest for that person to apply for credit on their own. Again, you have to balance this with income qualifications and each person’s appetite for debt.

For a review of your credit-report and for an action plan to credit-build, work with a local non-profit credit counseling agency, like Apprisen.
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