Marriage is a union in many ways. Someone’s financial problems that they had before marriage can become part of that union, potentially creating problems for them as a married couple.
But the problems may not be as big as you might suspect.
Here are some things to consider about your partner’s debt before getting married:
Your credit reports won’t merge
If your partner has a poor credit score or credit report, it won’t be transferred or combined with yours when you get married. That’s because a credit score or report is tied to each person’s Social Security number. You don’t merge your SSNs upon marriage, and neither do your credit histories.
Each person will still have their own credit score, and should continue checking their credit report each year.
Changing names won’t change scores
A woman dropping her last name for her husband’s also won’t affect either person’s credit score.
Reporting a name change to creditors is important and will update existing credit reports. But it won’t mean starting a new credit history from scratch. Your old name will be listed as an alias, and your new name will be added to the report. You’ll still have your same old credit score upon marriage, for better or worse.
Even in a joint or community property state, if your name isn’t on an account, then activity on that account won’t be reported on your credit report.
Spouse’s poor credit won’t hurt yours
Just getting married won’t lower your credit score, and neither will a spouse’s poor credit history impact the other person’s credit profile. Even if you have joint accounts together, you’ll each still have separate credit scores.
Effects of joint accounts
Married couples often combine bank accounts, creating a joint account that can make paying bills and saving money together easier. Opening a joint account allows any information on it to be shared on the credit reports of each person, since each will still have their own credit score.
A spouse’s past credit history won’t impact the other’s credit profile, but activity on a joint account will.
If a couple gets a joint account for a credit card, for example, then each person’s credit score will be affected by how the account is used — whether you’re an authorized user or the primary holder of the account.
Getting married doesn’t automatically add someone to a spouse’s accounts as an authorized user or co-signer. The person with the credit card or loan will have to ask the creditor to add their spouse, or may have to refinance a loan to add a co-signer.
If a spouse didn’t have good credit before marriage, they can build good credit by being added as an authorized user on their spouse’s credit card. While authorized users aren’t always computed into credit scores, they can help establish a credit history and can help the user get their own account later.
Buying a home together can be tricky
Since credit histories aren’t combined, each person will have to show their credit history when applying for a loan, such as a home loan. This can get dicey if one person has a low credit score, since two incomes and two good credit scores are often needed to qualify for a mortgage loan and show a low debt-to-income ratio.
A poor credit history by one person could mean paying higher interest rates and fees for a home loan. Improving a partner’s credit score before applying for a home loan could increase their chance of approval.
Have separate credit cards
A joint credit card account is a good idea, but couples may also want to have one separate credit card in each person’s name for a few reasons.
First, it will help each person build their credit score alone. Second, if they ever get divorced, a separate credit card account can be useful to have if their joint accounts are closed.
Divorce won’t affect credit scores directly, but joint accounts could be negatively affected if one person overdraws an account and doesn’t pay the bill on time. That could lower the credit scores of both ex-partners.
Overall, marriage won’t affect your credit profile as much as you might think. Still, it’s a good idea to have a few conversations about your credit histories as a couple before getting married.