If you're getting married, you're undoubtedly making a lot of decisions as a couple – from the flowers you'll have at your wedding to where you'll live after you say, "I do." You're probably also discussing how to handle your finances as a couple.
If you aren't, you should be.
Part of your pre-marital money discussion should involve your credit history, any debt you're both bringing into the relationship and how your credit may (or may not) be affected by each other's financial past.
Do you share credit histories when you get married?
Both adults come into a marriage with their own credit history. When you get married, your credit history remains your own and your partner keeps theirs, too. Getting married won't directly affect your credit score or your credit history.
If you apply for credit together, such as applying for a mortgage, the lender will evaluate the credit of both borrowers.
Only in the community property states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin do lenders look at the credit reports of both parties when one person applies for credit. That's because in these states both parties are responsible for debt incurred during marriage – even if the debt is in one person's name.
The good news? Even in community property states, any debt you bring into the marriage is yours alone. A spouse cannot be held responsible for debt incurred by their partner before marriage.
However, realize that if you have a joint bank account or other joint assets and a credit card issuer, loan company or even the IRS garnishes wages to collect a debt, jointly held assets can be seized.
How to raise your credit score with help from your spouse
There's good news for married couples with different credit scores. A partner with a poor credit score won't bring their spouse's credit score down. But a partner with a high credit score and good financial habits can help their spouse raise their credit score over time.
If you have made some late payments or even have some delinquencies on your credit report, you may be able to learn better financial habits from your partner. Hopefully, the good financial practices that lead to a high credit score – such as keeping balances low and paying credit card bills on time – will rub off on the spouse with the lower score. If you have a low credit score, you can get a credit card with your spouse as a co-signer. The interest rate will be higher than it would be if your spouse applied for the card alone but lower than it would be if you applied for a card on your own.
Use the card each month and pay it off when the bill comes due to avoid incurring interest. After six months of on-time payments, request a credit limit increase. Do the same after a year. As your credit score rises, you should be able to apply for a card with an even lower interest rate and better rewards – without a co-signer.
What if one partner filed bankruptcy before marriage?
As with credit card debt, if a partner has a bankruptcy in their history, this will not affect their spouse's credit score or credit history.
But it's important to discuss past bankruptcies. A bankruptcy can make it difficult to qualify for a mortgage or another joint loan. It could also make it harder to get approved for an apartment if both party's names are on the lease.
If your partner is still making payments as part of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where debt is not completely erased but is paid back over three to five years, these payments can affect your combined income and, potentially, your quality of life. But the courts can't touch your income or factor it into the bankruptcy payments.
How to prepare credit documents for marriage
Although your credit history won't change after marriage, your name might!
If one or both partners are changing their names after marriage, you can expect a bit of paperwork to make the change "official."
– If both partners are hyphenating their last names or if one partner is taking the other's last name: All you'll need to prove the name change is a certified copy of your marriage license. You can pick this up from the same local government office, typically a city or town hall, where you filed your marriage license. You'll need to first file the name change with the Social Security Administration by providing a copy of your marriage license. Once you receive your Social Security card with the new name, you can visit your state's Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver's license or state ID card with your new name.
– If you are both creating a new last name: You'll need to change your names legally through a court order. Once you have legally changed your names with the court, the rest of the steps are the same, beginning with filing the change with the Social Security office. After you have your new Social Security card and license, you can contact your creditors and request a name change on your account, using your new ID as proof of the name change. You should receive a new card with your new name within a few weeks. You may be able to have a card sent overnight if you are willing to pay a rush fee.
How a name change affects your credit report
Once you file the name change with your Social Security office and change the name on your credit card, the credit bureaus will update their records, too. Your maiden name will still show up on your Experian, TransUnion and Equifax credit reports, with your new name after it.
Having any name you've ever used on your credit report helps the credit bureaus ensure they are tracking all your accounts. It can also help the credit bureau identify fraud, as thieves will sometimes apply for credit in a name you are no longer using.
Don't worry; having multiple names, or aliases, on your credit report does not affect your credit score in any way.
Preparing your financial life as a married couple
In short, getting married won't affect your credit. It's what you do as a married couple and the financial steps you take moving forward that will affect your credit and your financial future. That's why it's important to make a budget together, stick to it and keep each other in the loop about your spending.
Partners can help each other raise their credit scores through responsible credit management, but any money mistakes you may have brought into the marriage don't have to hurt your partner or your future together.
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