|Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who currently writes
about family finances and edits
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I am getting married next year and have a question concerning our
individual credit histories. I have good credit and my fiancé does
not. I have worked hard to maintain a good credit rating, paying
more than the minimum amount due each month. My fiancé however is
not good at paying his bills and unfortunately his credit is
suffering because of it. I basically have to remind him what's due,
how much, etc. If we get married will whatever he has owed
previously (before me) affect my credit or not? I don't want
responsibility for something I had no involvement in. I understand
that whatever we do together after we are married is
"ours" but what about before? Can you please tell me what
is right? --Amber
Amber's right that just by getting
married you do not assume the credit history of your spouse. His bad
record will not automatically contaminate your good one. Your credit
rating is only affected by what you do. Anything that you do
yourself or jointly with someone else will be reflected on your
But Amber is also correct that events
after the marriage will effect both of their credit files. And as
time goes by their credit histories will begin to look similar.
Much as we'd like to, you can't marry
just part of someone. We marry all of them. That includes their good
and bad points. Also their assets and liabilities.
Unless Amber keeps all of her
financial affairs completely separate it will be almost impossible
to avoid the influence of his debts. For instance, he may have
agreed to pay half of the rent. But he could end up in a position
where he's legally required to pay back a debt before he honors his
commitment to Amber.
Before the wedding I'd recommend
putting together a joint budget. Just filling out a budget form
together should be a real learning experience. Take plenty of time
to discuss how each of you relate to money. Come to an agreement as
to what's acceptable money behavior. Any couple planning marriage
should do the same thing.
Remember that it's very difficult to
avoid getting tangled up with your spouse's problems. Whether your mate
snores or has financial troubles, it's pretty tough to ignore. And
it will affect your relationship and home life.
Amber's fiancé isn't just bringing
debts with him to the alter. He's also bringing promises to make
future payments to different creditors. It's just like Amber is also
saying "I do" to his payment schedule. The marriage
doesn't release him from any commitments to repay debt.
The creditors won't attend Amber's
wedding reception but they will expect to be repaid. So if he falls
behind they'll go after any money that legally belongs to Amber's fiancé. That includes anything that's owned jointly with her.
There are several types of joint
ownership. Space doesn't allow for a detailed discussion. But be
careful. Many joint accounts (for instance a joint checking account)
allow for either person to access all of the money. That means that
all of the money is also available to creditors.
Amber's husband-to-be may not want to
tap into a joint account. But if he falls behind his creditors could
get a judgment and force him to. Courts generally don't care who
contributed to the joint account. If he can legally access the money
it's also fair game for creditors.
Keeping Amber's finances separate
isn't going to be easy. Want to buy a home? You'll need to plan on
doing it in your name alone. Joint ownership would make the house a
target for creditors. Even if Amber supplied every single dollar
that went into the house.
This isn't going to be popular
advice, but I'd suggest that Amber postpone the marriage until her fiancé
has better control of his debts. If the relationship is
really important to him, he'll gladly make the sacrifice. If he's
reluctant you need to know before the wedding.
Anyone who's been married for awhile
will tell you that you won't change your spouse's habits after the
wedding. Don't expect him to adjust his ways later. If anything,
tendencies become more ingrained.
I don't mean to dump on somebody that
Amber holds dear, but it's irresponsible to neglect to pay bills on
time. Grown-ups don't do that type of thing. It could be symptomatic
of an immature outlook on life.
Starting a marriage with this type of
handicap is a real challenge. Remember that today's
"reminder" will become tomorrow's "nagging". My
guess is that if he ever starts getting calls from collection
agencies he's not going to be very receptive to Amber's
Hopefully Amber and her fiancé will
be able to set a solid foundation for a happy life together.