A common misconception about marriage is, that in addition to uniting two lives together, it also combines two credit scores.
In actuality, your credit score is yours alone — no matter your marital status. That’s because your credit rating is an assessment of your individual creditworthiness, and the credit bureaus base that assessment on your individual history of borrowing money and paying off debt. That means no aspect of your spouse’s credit history will ever go on your credit report.
Even though your credit score is yours, however, that doesn’t mean marriage has no effect on it.
Here’s what you need to know about how getting hitched can affect your credit:
Joint Accounts Will Be Reported
While your spouse’s credit rating can’t affect yours, their money behavior most certainly can if you have joint accounts or if you jointly apply for a loan. That’s because creditors are required to report information in a joint account on both account holders’ credit reports.
So if you marry someone who struggles with debt and paying bills on time, then you can expect any joint accounts you hold with them to negatively affect your score until they get their behavior under control.
This is why many experts recommend that spouses maintain separate checking accounts and credit cards, either instead of, or in addition to, joint accounts. That will help you maintain your own active credit record and can help you protect your credit score from any potential issues within the joint account.
Investopedia also recommends maintaining separate accounts, because it’ll ensure you can always get credit on your own: “If there are long periods during which you do not have any credit history, you will not be able to take out loans by yourself.”
Loan Applications Could Get Declined
While your credit won’t take a hit if your new spouse has poor credit, it might hinder your ability to get a loan as a couple.
For instance, if you decide to apply for a mortgage together, your spouse’s lower credit rating might be enough for the bank to decline your joint application. Even if you do qualify, you might find that the terms and interest rates are higher than you expected.
This is one of the many reasons why it’s a good idea to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page financially before you tie the knot.
You Can Help to Improve a Spouse’s Poor Credit
If one spouse has excellent credit, while the other’s isn’t so hot, it is possible to improve the poor credit score without sacrificing interest rates.
If the spouse with higher credit makes their spouse an authorized user, then the history on that account is reported on both credit reports. Only the account-holder, however, will be responsible for making payments. This will give the couple an opportunity to incrementally improve the lower score while avoiding the high interest rates that the low score would normally cause.
Of course, this will only work if the low-scoring spouse is committed to improving their financial habits. It won’t do any good if the authorized user charges purchases that neither spouse can afford.
The Bottom Line
Marriage might not be the union of two credit scores — but that doesn’t mean your spouse’s credit is totally divorced from yours. Make sure you and your spouse know exactly what to expect from each other’s financial history, so that you can be on the same page moving forward.
Do you and your spouse (or soon-to-be spouse) have similar credit scores?