Getting married does not directly affect your credit score, despite common misconceptions. However, there are marriage-related changes that can affect your credit score, such as opening a new line of credit together, name-change complications or adding your spouse as an authorized user on an account.
Head into this exciting new time of life with the tools to stay financially healthy together. Our guide will break down common marriage-related changes that may impact your credit score.
How Your Spouse’s Credit Score Affects You
After the wedding, you and your spouse may start looking ahead to your next big financial milestone. But what if your spouse has bad credit?
You’re only affected by your spouse’s credit history if you apply for joint lines of credit. This is important to remember when considering whether to buy a home or how to pay off debt.
If you and your spouse decide to get a line of credit together, also referred to as a joint account, then the lender pulls both of your credit reports to make the lending decision. In this instance, mismatched scores could affect your mortgage interest rates, your credit limit and chances of approval.
Example of How Your Spouse’s Credit Affects You
Suppose you’ve maintained a solid track record of on-time payments and a good FICO® score. Your spouse, on the other hand, had a number of late payments and is still working to repair their credit.
With those low and high scores combined, it’s likely that you will be offered a loan at a higher interest rate than what you would have been offered as an individual.
Here are other ways a joint account could negatively impact both of your credit scores:
- A payment is submitted late
- The account is in a state of delinquency
- You fall behind on payments
This is the roundabout way that marriage affects credit. It doesn’t happen as a result of the act of getting married, but rather as a result of the two individuals taking financial actions together.
If one spouse has a better credit history than the other, the spouse with the better credit history may need to apply for new credit accounts individually until the other can improve their score. This increases your chances of getting better rates and loan terms.
5 Common Myths About Marriage and Your Credit Score
Signing the wedding license doesn’t automatically link your financial histories. There are many common misconceptions about marriage and finances, especially when one spouse has a large amount of debt or negative marks on their history.
These myths can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety heading into a wedding day. It’s important to work through these questions together to create a tangible financial plan.
Myth 1: Credit Reports Merge When You Get Married
You don’t lose your financial identity when you get married, nor does it automatically merge with your spouse’s credit report. Credit reports are identified by your social security number.
Even if you change your name, your social security number stays the same. As far as financials go, your credit report still reflects only your own credit activity when you get married—unless you have joint lines of credit.
Myth 2: Marriage Lowers Your Credit Score
Your credit score will not change with the act of marriage itself, though common spending habits surrounding a wedding can lead to more debt.
For example, a recent study found that 28 percent of US couples went into debt to pay for their wedding. Costs surrounding a wedding—such as a honeymoon and paying for wedding-related activities—can also contribute to higher spending.
Merging your spending habits also takes time. If one person is more conservative with saving while the other uses a credit card daily, it can take time to find equilibrium.
All these actions can lead to factors that lower your credit score, such as high credit utilization and even missed payments. The act of marriage itself, however, does not have a direct impact on your credit score.
Myth 3: Your Credit History is Erased When You Change Your Last Name
Changing your last name also does not affect your financial identity. Your credit report will remain the same, your new name will simply be listed as an alias on your report.
You can, however, encounter administrative issues if you don’t inform the proper parties right away. After you change your name, inform your creditors with the name-change information. Some banks will require an official name-change form and marriage license. Contact your creditors to learn about their name-change requirements.
When your creditors report your new name at the end of the next cycle, the three major credit bureaus automatically receive the new information and will list your new name as an alias on your report.
To be safe, request a free credit report a month after the switch to ensure all details reached each reporting agency.
Myth 4: Your Spouse’s Poor Credit Will Hurt Your Credit Scores
If you or your spouse are still working to improve bad credit habits, their score will not affect yours the moment you get married. Your score may only change when you begin applying for joint accounts or loans.
Once approved for a joint account, you are both responsible for the health of the line of credit. Maxing out your credit limit or missing payments affects both your scores.
Myth 5: You Are Automatically Added as a Joint User on Your Spouse’s Account
The act of marriage doesn’t automatically merge credit or bank accounts. In order to authorize your spouse on your account or open up a new line of credit together, you must mutually discuss this with your financial institution.
Couples may choose to merge accounts before marriage or remain financially independent of one another after marriage. Marriage by itself does not automatically give both parties access to each other’s accounts.
How A Spouse Can Help Improve Their Partner’s Score
There are a few ways you can combine finances that will benefit both of your credit scores. For example, adding your spouse as an authorized user to an account can help improve the lower of the two scores, in some circumstances.
Other couples choose to keep separate accounts but open a joint line of credit for common purchases and bills. These changes don’t need to be made all at once—each couple should decide what is best for their own comfort.
One reason to add a spouse as an authorized user would be if one spouse doesn’t have a long credit history or has a high credit utilization ratio (the amount of available credit compared to the amount of utilized credit).
There are benefits to applying for a joint account. For example, if your spouse has low credit, adding them as an authorized user may help them improve their credit score faster and help you both eventually qualify for a better interest rate.
For some, linking all financial accounts creates a way to define and manage household budgets, giving them an easy way to track expenses and plan how they choose to direct their spending.
That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question and every couple chooses to manage their finances differently.
Are You Responsible for Your Spouse’s Debt When You Get Married?
Overall, debt accumulated before marriage remains the responsibility of each individual. The exception to this rule is, of course, if you opened a joint account, cosigned on a loan or became an authorized user on their account. If you both have credit card debt or student loans completely independent of one another from before the marriage, responsibility does not change.
Debt and assets accumulated during your marriage are treated differently depending on where you live. Nine community property law states consider the majority of debt, property and assets accumulated during marriage as belonging equally to both parties.
All other states follow common law rules unless you legally indicate that you plan to share the debt—if you include both names on the title of a home, for example. Common law states that assets and debt earned in a marriage are still the sole responsibility of each individual in the marriage.
In the instance that you need further clarification on the property laws of your state, we highly recommend that you consult an attorney.
How Marriage Affects Your Credit Report
While getting married doesn’t do anything to your credit, the financial decisions you make as a couple can impact it. It’s important to do a bit of homework as part of your marriage planning, especially when it comes to protecting your credit.
As we mentioned above, be sure to check your credit reports after your name change for any inconsistencies or errors. Mistakes on your credit report can affect your credit score and require removal as soon as possible.
These may include credit items that don’t belong to you but show up on your report, fraudulent accounts due to identity theft or incorrect personal information such as your social security number.
Lexington Law can help you work to remove inaccurate negative items from your report. Our team of credit report consultants can help guide you through this process. If you find any mistakes on your credit report, contact us for a free personalized credit report consultation to see how we can help.