What Married Couples Should Know About Their Credit Scores

Kelly Strauss
April 22nd, 2020 | 5 minutes

Marriage is a merger of multiple aspects of your lives — your family, your Netflix accounts, and most importantly, your finances. Naturally, you might want to have joint savings or checking accounts to make household spending easier, but this will eventually call into question the matter of debt. Does marriage now mean you’re responsible for your partner’s debt? What does this mean for your credit score?

We’ll answer these questions, and more, for you to get all your credit score concerns out of the way.

Your credit score will not merge after marriage

Fear not. Emily Pollock, an attorney that specializes in matrimonial and family law at Kasowitz Benson Torres, maintains that, with credit scores, what's yours is yours, even after marriage. In other words, your credit score, reports, and history will not merge once you’re married. It’s worth noting that the FICO score, the most widely used credit scoring system, does not consider certain personal information in creating your credit score, such as your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and marital status. Instead, it relies primarily on your Social Security number.

So, despite saying “I do”, everything to do with your credit remains solely yours.

You can still get individual credit reports and file disputes

The great thing about still maintaining your own credit reports is that regardless of what happens to your credit score, your spouse's scores won’t be affected.

So for instance, if you’d like to file a dispute on your account, it will not trigger a similar dispute on your spouse's account, since disputes are filed individually. Since credit bureaus don't have "married credit reports", your credit report will continue to be uniquely yours for your lifetime.

A name change doesn’t change your credit score/history

If you end up changing your last name, it won't have an effect on your credit history. The only change that you can expect is that your credit profile will be updated with your new last name. Your maiden name will continue appearing on your credit reports, which means creditors can still access your credit history using that surname.

Just as your credit score is unique to you and you alone, your credit history is yours to keep as well. Both are linked to your personal information, notably your Social Security number (which also does not change with your name change).

Both your credit scores will matter if you try to get a joint loan

An example of when both your credit scores matter is when you apply for a joint loan. In this process, both of your credit histories will be pulled and assessed to determine if the creditor wants to give you a joint loan.

If one of you has a weak credit history, it will likely have an effect on rates, the term of your debt, and the amount you’re able to borrow together. Assuming the lender grants you a joint loan, all payments (or lack thereof) will affect both your credit profiles.

Because lenders are required to report the payment history of your loan in both of your names, a missed payment will show up negatively on both of your credit histories. In fact, credit bureau Equifax lists missed and late payments as factors that can affect your credit score adversely.

Other factors that can hurt your and your spouse’s credit scores include high credit utilization or opening up too many joint credit accounts. Keep these details in mind when making joint financial decisions, as your actions can affect both you and your partner.

You don’t have to open joint accounts or loans

It’s important to realize that even if you’re married, you don’t have to fully combine your finances.

For instance, instead of taking on assets or loans jointly, you have the option to make your partner an authorized user on an existing account or credit card. This gives your partner the ability to access your finances without taking on shared responsibility for those finances.

There's also the option of letting the spouse with the higher credit score apply for an individual loan or account which you can then treat as a joint resource. With this approach, it’s important to remember that in the event of a breakup, the responsibility of that account or loan could become yours to bear alone.

Debt responsibility can change after marriage and divorce

All of your debts — the largest factor in calculating credit scores — are treated as individual if you incurred them before getting married. This means that all your student loan debts don’t magically get shared, and all your partner’s credit card debts aren’t suddenly your responsibility.

However, debts taken on after marriage (even if taken on individually) can become a joint responsibility based on the marriage laws in your state of residence. In particular, if you and your spouse live in any of the nine community property states, then both of you will share the burden of paying most debts incurred post-marriage, regardless if it was taken jointly or individually. In common law states, divorce courts would typically follow an equitable distribution rule, which means it’s the courts who will decide how marital debts will be split.

Take a moment to understand marriage law in your state of residence as those are the rules you’ll be measured by.

Know what you’re signing up for

In short, saying "I do" on its own won't lead to major changes in your credit score, other than your credit report reflecting your post-marriage surname. However, any joint debt taken on together can have an impact on both your individual scores. As such, it’s crucial that you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to taking on debt. By coming clean with your credit histories, you can start off your marriage on the right track.

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