If you’re getting married, or already are married, you have probably thought about a lot of things, like where you’ll live, how you’ll combine your households, if you’ll have kids one day, and what kind of pets you might like to share. You know, all the fun stuff.
It’s important to take a look at more mundane things, too, like how to build a joint financial profile that allows you to plan for your long- and short-term goals. Maybe you’ve each already taken out individual loans for cars, or one of you is responsibly paying off a student loan or a mortgage. Or, maybe one of you is struggling with debt already.
Whether you’ve both built good credit and learned positive financial habits, or you have some things to learn, it’s good to get on the same page about what marriage means for your credit.
Here are the facts about how marriage affects your credit:
Getting married does not affect your individual credit score.
Each of you brings to your union separate credit scores based on your individual use of credit. Just like you won’t share a toothbrush, you won’t share a joint credit score once you get married.
Your individual credit score will continue to be determined by your payment history, amounts owed, credit mix, credit history, and new credit, just as they were before you were married.
But how you manage debt as a couple might affect that score, too.
Your joint debt can affect your individual credit score.
Let’s say you take out a loan jointly, meaning you filled out the loan application together and it’s in both of your names. Your spouse agrees to make the monthly payments, but forgets and doesn’t pay the bill for two or three months.
Because this is a joint account, the late payments may be reported on both of your credit reports with the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. So, even if you didn’t know about the late payments, they can affect your credit score.
Before you borrow money jointly, make sure you’re on the same page about who will make the payments and when, and communicate frequently about the loan during its duration.
Your individual credit score can affect shared credit applications.
When you open joint accounts, like a shared credit card or a mortgage in both your names, your loan amount may be limited by one spouse’s lower credit score. Or you may see a higher interest rate than you’re used to if you’re the spouse with the stronger credit history.
Marrying someone with bad credit won’t affect your credit score.
If you’re marrying someone with poor credit, there’s some good news: The fact that your spouse has bad credit won’t affect your score.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Your spouse having a lot of debt or poor financial habits doesn’t signal the end of the world for your joint finances and goals. But it likely means your spouse could use some help managing their money and their credit.
To get them on the right track, indulge in some financial literacy education together: Learn about the factors used to determine credit scores and how your actions affect them. Specifically, payment history and the amounts owed, two of the most critical elements of credit health, are within your own control.
If your spouse has debts in default or a complicated history with credit, help them to take steps to repay their debts and improve their credit for the long run.
You are not required to apply jointly for every loan.
You can have individual accounts that the other person doesn’t co-sign for in addition to any joint accounts you create.
If either of you find your score may be considered “too low” by some banks to be approved for a loan, for example, you could consider having one spouse take out the loan themselves.
You can build better credit together. And separately.
There are many ways to improve your credit, including reviewing your credit report to ensure there are no inaccuracies, and if there are, working with a credit bureau to correct. Also, paying off outstanding debts shown on your credit report can aid in staying on top of your credit health.
The most important thing is for both you and your partner to get serious about your debt management. Even if you each have separate credit scores, your destinies are still intertwined. If one of you has bad credit and doesn’t take steps to fix it, you could miss out on buying a home, borrowing money to start a business, or other financial goals.
How you can raise your credit score, or your spouse’s.
If you are the spouse with bad credit, get your financial ducks in a row so you can achieve the goals you’ve set with your partner. Be totally honest about your credit score and debt too, so your spouse is in the know before you take on joint accounts together. This will help you set realistic goals for your combined financial plans.
Most of the good financial habits you need are important for both of you, no matter what your credit profile currently looks like. Here are some steps you can take:
Keep an eye on your credit scores.
The best way to start building credit together is to see how your credit looks today. You can get a free copy of your entire credit report from all three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com once per year. To get your credit score from this service, you’ll have to pay an additional fee.
Pay off debts in default or collections.
If either one of you have debt in default or collections, it’s important to create a plan to take care of those liabilities right away. Call your creditors to come up with a payment plan, then get to work paying everything off. It may take a while, but your best bet is to get started right away.
Pay down other debts.
According to myFICO.com, the second most important factor affecting your credit score is the amount you owe in relation to your credit limits, or how much debt you have. The less you owe, the better your debt-to-income ratio and the more potential for a higher score. With this in mind, it’s smart to pay off debt and work on getting your debt-to-income ratio as low as you feasibly can.
Consider a loan for debt consolidation.
If you are struggling with multiple higher-interest debt, you might look into a loan for debt consolidation. This allows you to combine payments due to several creditors into one fixed monthly payment. Because a personal loan has a fixed interest rate and repayment term, you can budget for your payments and know exactly when you’ll have the debt paid off. You could save hundreds, even thousands, in interest. Some lenders, like Discover Personal Loans, even pay your creditors directly, which can make managing debt easier for you or your spouse.
Make all your monthly payments on time.
One of the most important factors used to determine your credit score is your payment history. To give yourself the best potential for a high score, you should pay all of your bills early or on time.
The bottom line on your bottom line
When it comes to marriage and credit, it’s important to remember you’re in this together. Despite the fact that you have separate credit scores, your financial fates and lives are intertwined. The best thing any married couple can do is sit down and hatch a plan to improve your credit and your overall financial health together.
With enough time and effort, you and your spouse can achieve your financial goals. It all starts with knowing how to improve and maintain your financial health. Learn more by reading our five steps to improve your financial wellness and get started today on your path to good credit.
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