There are no hard and fast rules for how married couples handle their money. Some like to put everything into a joint account and pay all the bills from there. Others prefer to keep their money separate, with each paying a share of the regular monthly expenses.
When it comes to credit, however, each partner in the marriage should understand that the way that they handle their credit can have a very big impact on their spouse. While there is no joint credit score for married people, a woman who has a good credit score may end up paying a higher rate for a mortgage or a vehicle loan if her spouse with a much lower credit score is listed on the application. A woman with a poor credit record, on the other hand, could benefit if her partner has a better credit history and a better credit score. The poor-credit spouse might qualify for loans she might otherwise not get.
It simply makes sense for both partners in a marriage to work towards building good and healthy credit records. Here are some strategies that you can use:
- Even before you marry, sit down and have a frank discussion with your intended about money and credit. Each of you should get copies of your credit report (you’re entitled to a free copy from each of the major credit bureaus once a year) and review them with each other. Look for problem areas such as skipped or late payments, past bankruptcies or similar warning signals. Watch for any incorrect information and take the necessary steps to get it removed.
You may also be able to obtain a free copy of credit score at an online website. This will give you some idea of how companies extending credit are likely to judge your creditworthiness.
- Figure out how much you owe separately and jointly. Do you or your spouse have student loans to pay off? How much credit card debt are you carrying? How much do you pay in rent or have to put out for monthly car payments, insurance etc.?
- Make a plan to get your financial house in order. Start by drawing up a monthly budget and figuring out how much money you and your spouse can put towards reducing your monthly debt load.
- If late or skipped payments are a problem, set up a system to make sure that they are paid on time. Should the spouse who’s never late with a credit card deadline be put in charge of paying all those bills? Should there be a joint account to cover these expenses, and if so, how much should each spouse contribute?
- Consider ways to boost a spouse’s credit score. For example, you may want to jointly apply for a credit card online. If you are the spouse who already has good credit, the interest rate for this card will probably higher than for a card that’s issued only in your name. But if you make it a point to pay off the bill each month that won’t be a problem, and your spouse will be on their way to establishing that they are a reliable customer. (A good track record of paying bills on time will always be a plus when it comes to building a credit record.)
- Set up a schedule for reviewing your financial progress and your credit reports. Every four months, both spouses can get a copy of a report from a different credit bureau to make sure that there are no new problem areas. If you’ve paid off loans or credit cards completely, make sure that those payoffs are reported.
- One thing you don’t want to do is close out credit card accounts. That will reduce the amount of credit available to you and make your debt-to-income ratio higher, which counts against your credit score.
- If the credit cards are too big a temptation for the spouse with poor credit, let the other spouse take charge of them or hide them.
Having one partner in a marriage with a good credit record is a good thing. Having both partners with good credit records is a great thing that will pay off over the long term in lower interest payments and money saved.