What Happens to Your Credit When You Get Married?

If one partner’s score is good while the other is bad, do you meet in the middle?

I’m getting married this fall and I’m worried about what will happen with our credit. My fiancé has an excellent credit score – never misses a payment, always pays more than the minimums, and never gets close to maxing out.

On the other hand, my credit isn’t the best. I had a few accounts go into collections during school, I missed a couple of student loan payments because I thought one of the loans was deferred, and then I went over my limits on a few credit cards when I was between jobs. It’s nothing huge, but my score definitely suffered from it.

So now we’re getting married, and I’m worried that my bad credit score is going to bring her down. It’s a big deal because we’re planning on buying a house next year and the last thing I want to do is ruin our chances of getting approved. What can we do to make sure we have the credit score we need to have when the time comes?

Mike A.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

An expert answer from Financial Education Director April Lewis-Parks

 

Do your credit scores combine when you get married?

No. Even after you get married, both spouses maintain individual credit scores. You both come into the relationship with the scores that you had before you got hitched. However, jointly held debt can affect both partners’ scores. If you miss payments by more than 30 days or have jointly held accounts go to collection, it creates negative remarks on both spouses’ credit. These negative items can drag down your credit scores.

Is all debt after you’re married held jointly?

Not necessarily. You can still apply for loans and credit cards individually. Debts are only held jointly if you apply together as co-applicants. If you apply as an individual, then the debt is only held by you. That means late payments won’t affect your spouse’s credit score. However, repaying the debt on time also wouldn’t help your spouse build credit either.

There can be strategic reasons to apply for new credit lines without your spouse included. For example, let’s say you need a 720 minimum FICO score to qualify for a new loan. Only one of you has a score that high. If you apply jointly, then you won’t get approved. So, the person with the higher score may apply alone so you can get the loan.

You may also decide to apply individually in order to get better rates and terms. If your spouse has a low score and you apply jointly, you will pay a higher interest rate. On a loan like a mortgage, just one percentage point difference can mean thousands extra in costs.

On the other hand, applying jointly for a loan or credit card can help the spouse with the lower score build credit. As long as you make payments on time and keep the account in good standing, it won’t drag down the other person’s score.

Do spouses’ credit scores ever match exactly?

Possibly, but it would be extremely rare. Many factors that go into calculating credit score depend on your entire credit history. For example, “credit age” is the third biggest scoring factor. It looks at how long you’ve maintain each account you have in good standing.

So, how you used credit before you got married will still impact your score long after you tie the knot. After many years together if you hold all your post-nuptial debt jointly, then both spouses’ scores should be fairly close. But for the most part, they’ll never be exactly the same.

What about credit reports?

Credit reports, like credit scores, are tied to the individual. So, each spouse maintains their own credit profile with each of the three main credit bureaus in the U.S.

That means that each spouse should regularly review their own report to make sure it’s clean and error-free. This will help you avoid unwelcome surprises when you apply for new credit, whether you do it jointly or not.

Making sure both spouses are mortgage-ready

Make sure both spouses are ready for mortgage approval so you can move inSince the main reason we received this question was because the couple plans to apply for a mortgage soon, we thought it would be helpful to provide some tips on how to make sure you both are mortgage-ready.

  1. Download both spouses’ credit reports at com.
  2. Review your reports for mistakes and errors – particularly negative information that could decrease that spouse’s score.
  3. If you find anything you think is incorrect, go through credit repair to correct them.
  4. Also make sure to check your debt-to-income ratio. You will need a DTI of 41% or less with your new mortgage payments factored in to get approved.

Consolidated Credit also offers a free mortgage prequalification calculator that can help you see how much home you can really afford.