Will Getting Married Hurt My Credit Score?

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Getting married doesn’t affect your credit score per se. The major credit reporting agencies, for instance, don’t combine your credit history with your significant other’s once you say “I do.”

But, if you have a spouse or soon-to-be-spouse whose credit is less than stellar — or downright “horrible” like John Rampton’s wife Kristy’s was before they married— prepare yourself for the possibility of losing a few notches in your credit-score belt if you want to help dig him or her out of debt.

First, let’s learn more about John and Kristy (who both agreed to share their story): when they got married a couple of years ago, John, 31, knew going in that she had some credit issues.

“I knew she’d had some financial problems — she’d lost her job this and had hard times that — but you never really know until you know,” he said. “I just figured, hey, we’ll get married, we’ll have a few bumps … I know she’ll be a little in debt, but we’ll just pay it off and we’ll go.”

“I knew she had an outstanding student loan of about $12,000. Now, if it had been like $100,000 in credit card debt from a shopping habit, that would’ve been a completely different story, but I wasn’t too worried about it,” he said.

It wasn’t until after they married that they really started talking in earnest about her credit situation, and the reality was she’d had some major financial setbacks. Kristy, now 33, had lost her job and hadn’t been able to make her car payments. The vehicle had been repossessed. She’d missed some student loan payments and some credit card payments, too. Her credit score, somewhere in the 400s, according to John, meant she couldn’t qualify to get the utilities in her own name.

Lay Out an Action Plan

So, John came up with a plan.

“I took over all finances and gave my wife a monthly allowance to teach her money management,” he said.

Then they started pulling Kristy’s credit reports. That was helpful because they found a few unpaid medical bills that Kristy hadn’t even been aware of, including a $24 bill that had gone to collections.

“We paid those off. We paid off her credit cards and her student loans,” John said. “We went to buy a car and I was thinking, we’ve done all these things, our credit score is going to be waaaay better.”

But it wasn’t really, and Kristy didn’t qualify for the auto loan, so John co-signed. His credit score took a ding.

“It wasn’t a severe blow. It took me down a little bit, but it was helping her credit somewhat,” John said. But not enough. So they contacted a credit repair company.

“They started disputing all of these things on her credit report,” he said. After a few months, things started getting removed. (You can go here to learn more about credit repair and credit repair companies.) Her credit score improved, and after about six months, they checked to see if she qualified for a credit card. She didn’t, even though she didn’t have any debt. So they got a secured credit card with a $5,000 limit.

Kelly used it regularly and paid it off multiple times a month. Some months she carried a balance just to see if it helped her credit score. (It doesn’t — best practice is to pay credit card balances off in full.)

No Magic Credit Repair Bullet

“We played around with everything,” John said. “I don’t think there’s one magic bullet when it comes to fixing your credit. You kind of have to do everything.”

Today, Kristy’s score is at 760. And John’s score is also just fine. They don’t have any debt and they’ve even invested in a rental property.

“Now she’s 10-times better than I am [at money management], has all the bills under her name and is an expert at money,” he said. “Some people aren’t brought up with the same knowledge of money. You have to teach them. This was a bit of contention in the beginning of my marriage, but over the course of our first six months, it turned into one of the best things we could have ever done.”

Does Your Credit (or Your Spouse’s Credit) Need Help?

If you find yourself in a similar situation to John and Kristy, here are some tips for you to consider when fixing credit and debt problems.

  1. Correct Bad Money Habits. “As you begin to make financial transactions together such as financing cars, borrowing to buy a home, or opening credit card accounts in both of your names, any poor fiscal habits that result in late payments or maxing out credit cards will begin to negatively impact your personal credit score,” Toni Husband, a financial coach with Debt Free Divas, wrote in an email. “Adopting less than stellar money management habits from a spouse will kill your credit score.”
  2. Be a Team Player. It’s good to remember as you work to build good credit together that you are on the same side. “Your spouse is not the enemy, just the same wonderful person you married with a different way of interpreting your situation,” Husband said. “You’ll likely make mistakes or overreact. … The key is to apologize or accept apologies, learn from previous dust ups, and work a little harder next time to remember you both have the same goal — to do what’s best for your family.”
  3. Be Respectful. “Learning to manage money is a skill that can be mastered, but it may take time to unlearn less than productive habits,” Husband said.
  4. Celebrate the Wins. “Encourage change in fiscal habits by emphasizing positive behaviors rather than always complaining about what you don’t like,” she said. “Focus on improvements and use mistakes or setbacks as an opportunity to learn.”

If you’re looking for more tips on how to improve your credit score, you can use your free credit report summary, updated each month on Credit.com, to track your progress. There may be no shortcuts to better credit, but having a plan will get you there faster than no plan at all.

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Can My Valentine’s Bad Credit Hurt Me?

Don’t worry too much if your Valentine discloses their credit score is in rough shape this weekend — their bad credit isn’t technically contagious.

“Everyone has their own credit report, so your significant other’s credit history won’t be combined with yours,” Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, said in an email. (And, yes, this tenet is true for folks that have formally tied the knot as well.)

But that’s not to say you’ll never incur any collateral damage as a result of your beloved’s credit woes. While you won’t formally inherit the credit score of your significant other or spouse, you may have to endure some of the consequences of their bad credit scores — or their bad habits — together, said Thomas Bright of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions.

An Indirect Hit

For instance, let’s say you and your loved one decided to apply for a mortgage. And “to get financing for the house that you want to buy, you need both incomes,” Bright said. In this case, lenders are going to look at both of your credit scores — and your significant other’s not-so-hot credit will likely result in less favorable terms and conditions.

A more expensive mortgage subsequently could mean “there’s a much higher chance that one month you’re going to miss a car payment or have to carry a higher balance on your credit card,” Bright said. And those items would negatively affect your credit.

Keep in mind, too, any joint account you elect to open with your loved one will appear on your credit reports.

“If you open a joint account you share full responsibility for the debt with your significant other,” Griffin said. “If he or she abuses the account, you could be left with a damaged credit history. If you add your significant other to one of your accounts, they could hurt your credit by abusing that privilege.”

Building Better Credit Together

But that’s not say you should run for the hills anytime a suitor reveals their credit score is hovering below 600. After all, there’s a chance your good credit could ultimately rub off on them.

For instance, “if you both use the [joint] account responsibly, it could help both of you build strong credit histories, too,” Griffin said.

Remember, when it comes to love and money, communication is key.

“With taking on any debt, you need to weigh the pros and the cons,” Bright said. “Sit down to budget together. Take a good hard look at what the numbers are.”

If you have a really good plan in place and the communication is there, a move like opening a joint account or adding your significant as an authorized user to your credit card “could be a really great tool to rehabilitate their credit,” he said.

You can keep an eye on your credit — and the effect any joint accounts may be having on them — by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month at Credit.com. If your significant other needs to fix their credit, they should correct any errors on their credit reports, pinpoint the factors holding their scores down and focus on adding a positive credit history. You can also both potentially improve your credit scores over the long term by making all payments on time, keeping credit card balances low and sparingly adding new lines of credit.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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