Marriage and Credit

Managing your credit can be tricky, even when you're the only person involved in your financial decisions. When you add a new spouse to the mix, you have to be extra careful to ensure that your credit remains in good standing.

Discuss Your Financial Status

First of all, both you and your spouse should put all your financial records — savings, salaries, investments, real estate and especially credit — on the table. If one of you has a less-than-glowing credit history, it will affect the other as soon as you start applying for credit together and opening joint accounts. Reviewing your credit reports together help prevents any unpleasant surprises in the future. In addition, your new joint accounts will appear on both of your credit reports in the future, so be sure to pay careful attention to your bills and pay them on time.

To Merge or Not to Merge Accounts

Once you've aired your credit laundry, you'll need to decide whether or not to merge all your financial accounts. Many couples do this because consolidated accounts often make for easier record-keeping. Points to keep in mind include the following:

  • Both of you are responsible for all debt incurred in any joint credit accounts.
  • Regardless of who's incurring debt, a missed payment on a joint account will negatively affect both of your records. The same is true in community property states, where virtually any debt entered into during marriage is automatically considered joint.
  • If you miss a payment on an individual account, that payment may impact your ability to open joint accounts because both credit histories will be considered.

If you decide to consolidate your accounts, you might want to keep at least one credit account in your own name as a safeguard in the event of an emergency. Keeping an individual account can also be a good thing in the event of divorce to re-establish an individual credit history.

The key to successful credit management as a couple is understanding that your individual credit behavior affects both you and your partner. To ensure that you are able to quickly get credit at the best possible terms, be sure you both understand all the implications that accompany a joint account. In addition, consider how the payments stemming from a major credit purchase will affect your overall budget.

Women who take their husband's surname after getting married need to notify the Social Security Administration and their current creditors of this change. You do not need to notify the credit reporting agencies of a name change. They automatically will update the name on a credit report when creditors report it.