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Wedding Bells, Credit Smells

Marrying someone with a lower score could hurt your credit

The following is a transcript of "Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life," a podcast from QuickAndDirtyTips.com. The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at TheStreet.com's podcast home page.

Darryl in Florida emailed me this question:

"If I marry someone with a very poor credit history and mine is very good, will it change my credit rating?"

Thanks for the question, Darryl!

So what happens if you marry someone with a lower credit score? Does your credit report mix and mingle with theirs and give birth to a new report that contains your and your spouse's best and worst credit traits? Will your credit score go down if you marry them? Will their credit score go up? What happens?

Everyone Has Their Own Credit Score

If the woman or man of your dreams has a significantly lower credit score than yours, there's no need to panic! You don't necessarily need to call off the wedding and it won't necessarily affect your score.

Your Spouse's Poor Credit Can Affect Joint Loans

Each person has his or her own separate credit record and credit bureaus don't mix two credit histories together when people get married. However, if you apply for a loan together with your spouse, you may find it harder to get approved because of your spouse's lower credit score. And if it's a big loan, such as a mortgage, and you decide to apply for it alone so that your spouse's credit history isn't considered, you may discover that you can't qualify for it on just one income.

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Talk Through Your Financial Goals Before the Marriage

Before getting married, it's really important to talk about finances and understand your significant other's credit history and attitudes about money. Agreeing on your financial goals will help keep your finances and your relationship on solid ground when you're married.

Find Out Why Your Intended Has Credit Problems

And if you don't know the credit history of your spouse-to-be, ask them! If they have bad credit, find out why. Is it due to an isolated problem in the past, such as a period of unemployment or illness, or is it an ongoing issue? If it's a past problem, their credit score will improve with time. If it's a current and ongoing problem, well now, that's a bigger issue to resolve.

Solve the Problem

The payment history for a loan or credit card you and your spouse have jointly will be reported on both of your credit reports. So if your spouse doesn't make timely payments on accounts you own together, it will hurt your credit score, too.

If your spouse has a significantly lower credit score than yours and you're not sure whether the cause was just a temporary and past blip, one solution would be for you and your spouse to keep your accounts separate and apply for new credit separately, at least until your spouse's credit history gets better.

Remember, the most important thing you and your spouse can do to maintain or improve your individual credit scores is to pay your bills on time.

So here's wishing you healthy credit and happy relationships!

Cha-ching! That's all for now.

Elizabeth Carlassare, a business and technology writer, writes and records the Money Girl podcast. An investor, high tech professional, and former mortgage loan officer, she has a long-standing passion for helping people make the most of their money. She is the author of the Internet business book, Dotcom Divas, and has been interviewed on more than 60 regional and national radio programs, and featured on C-SPAN Book TV. Elizabeth holds an M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spoken internationally on the topic of women's entrepreneurship and access to capital.