Recently, my wife Mandy and I checked our credit reports along with our updated credit scores. My score was 844 and hers was 850, so she immediately started giving me a hard time (in a joking way, of course).
Apparently, Mandy felt her perfect credit score meant she is better with credit and money than I am. Maybe it’s our competitive natures with one another, but she can act really goofy if she feels like she’s winning in any aspect of our lives.
But, no matter what my wife thinks, our credit health is not a competition. We both benefit from having good credit individually and jointly. And, the truth is, any credit score over 800 is excellent anyway — but we all know you don’t get a trophy or brownie points for a perfect score.
So, take that, Mandy!
Marriage and Your Credit: What You Should Know
If you’re married or considering marriage, I can only hope you and your spouse will build a positive relationship with credit like my wife and I have. It took us years to get there, of course, but the benefits of good credit are worth the work, and the wait.
Because we both have good credit, we have had no trouble taking out loans to buy cars or homes in the past. As I write this, we’re even building our dream home in Nashville — a feat that’s only possible because we spent years building good credit and learning positive financial habits.
Here are five things about marriage and credit that I think you should absolutely know:
1. You will still have your own individual credit score.
As I already mentioned, my wife and I have separate credit scores that were determined based on our individual and joint use of credit. A lot of people assume they’ll somehow get a joint credit score once they get married, but that is absolutely not the case.
When you’re married, your individual credit factors will still be used to determine your credit score. In my experience dealing with new couples, your payment history, amounts owed, credit mix, credit history and new credit are considered just as they were before you were married.
The only difference is you may now have joint financial accounts that affect your credit score, whereas you probably only had accounts in your name before you were married.
2. Joint accounts play a huge role in your credit health.
Speaking of those joint accounts, what your spouse does or doesn’t do with these accounts can absolutely impact your credit score. Let’s say you take out a personal loan jointly, meaning both of you filled out the loan application together and it’s in both of your names. Your spouse then promises to make the monthly payments, but they forget and don’t pay the bill for two to three months.
Because this personal loan 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 may ding your credit score.
The bottom line: 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.
3. Marrying someone with bad credit won’t affect your credit score.
If you’re marrying someone with poor credit, here’s some good news: The fact that your spouse has bad credit won’t affect your score at all.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Your spouse having bad credit may not be a death knell for your finances, but it could mean your spouse could use some help managing their money and their credit.
To get them on the right track, make sure they know about the factors used to determine their credit score. Specifically, they should learn that the two main factors affecting their credit health, their payment history and the amounts they owe, are well within their control. If your new spouse has debts in default or a complicated history with credit, make sure they’re taking steps to repay their debts and improve their credit for the long run.
There are many ways to improve your credit health, including reviewing your credit score report to ensure there are no inaccuracies, and if there are, addressing them with a credit bureau to correct. Also, paying off outstanding debts shown on your credit report will also aid in staying on top of your credit health.
4. Always check your individual credit scores before applying jointly for any funds, like a loan.
If either of you, or both, find your score may be considered “too low” by some banks to be approved for a loan, there are a couple options to consider: You could follow the steps below to build credit together and take out the loan when you both will jointly qualify, or consider having one spouse take out the loan themselves. The spouse with the best credit score could apply for a personal loan.
5.You can build better credit together.
The big lesson here I’m trying to convey is that it’s important for both spouses to get serious about their credit health. 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.
If you are the spouse with bad credit, get your financial ducks in line so you can achieve the goals you’ve set with your spouse. Be totally honest about your credit score too, so your spouse is in the know before you take on joint accounts together and can make financial plans for realistic goals.
Either way, there is never any excuse that stops you from sitting down and writing out your long-term goals together, including any steps you need to take to improve your credit health. In fact, here are a few steps you can work on right away:
- 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 access a free Credit Scorecard website to see their credit score. You can also get a free copy of your entire credit report from all three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com once per year.
- 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 getting 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 debt consolidation loanto combine all payments into one fixed monthly payment. Some creditors, 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. The most important factor 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
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 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 could be on your way to a lifetime of good credit and financial prosperity in no time.