“You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. By the way, what’s your credit score?”
Now that’s one you can definitely file under ‘questions nobody’s ever asked on a first date.’ However, it is a question that should come up at some point before you get really serious about building a life together. Doing so is absolutely essential to protecting your credit when marrying into debt.
While credit problems shouldn’t be the sole factor in your decision to move forward together, establishing a plan to improve your financial situations should definitely be a topic of discussion.
Review Your Credit Reports
Each of you is entitled to a free copy of your credit reports every year. Look them over and identify problems that need correcting. Pay particular attention to bill payment history (including missed and late payments), high credit card balances and bankruptcy. If you come across any of those, do a bit of probing to find out what’s behind them, so you can devise a strategy to clear them.
The Good News & The Bad News
You are not automatically liable for your spouse’s previous debt or credit record. Whatever they did before you got together is on them. However, whatever the two of you do afterwards can affect your creditworthiness. This is why it’s important to get to the root of all of the issues before intermingling your finances.
With that said, once you’re married, even if you keep all accounts separate, you might share the responsibility of paying bills and your partner’s debt load could become a drain on your finances. You might also need them to have a clean credit history to qualify for a mortgage, so do what’s needed to improve your finances together.
If They’re Really in Trouble
If you learn your potential spouse is behind and struggling to make minimum payments, it might be a good idea to hire a debt relief firm to help get their financial affairs back in order. While this won’t improve their credit score right away, it could put them on track to building it back up. Just be careful to engage a reputable company. As part of your due diligence research, consider information like these Freedom Debt Relief reviews to check on credibility. It might also be a good idea to wait to get married until the program has been successfully completed.
Keeping Your Record Clean
Accounts should be kept separate until your partner’s affairs are put in order. If they have habits they can’t break, keep your credit histories separated so you don’t wind up suffering because of their inability (or unwillingness) to change. If their situation is so bad they can’t get credit at all, you could consider adding them as an authorized user on your accounts. This will make it easier to revert to sole use if things don’t work out.
Discuss a Marriage Contract
Yes, this is one of the least romantic aspects of coming together as one, but it can protect you if things don’t work out. The terms should include whether property is held jointly or individually; who is responsible for paying off debt; how monies are divided and the protections you have in the event one of you dies.
It’s All About Communication
Said simply, protecting your credit when marrying into debt is a matter of open and honest communication. You must get comfortable discussing finances early on. You also have to be open to devising strategies to clean up credit issues together. Remember, your primary goal should be building up a retirement fund together so you can enjoy a debt-free life.