You’ve probably heard the idea that when you marry someone, you’re marrying his or her family, too. It’s part of the package: Committing to someone means accepting everything about them, the good and the bad.
It doesn’t work that way with credit scores — they’re based on your individual credit history, so your marriage to someone with a better (or worse) score isn’t going to affect your numbers at all.
Relationships & Credit Scores
Marital status has no direct impact on your credit score, because it would be considered discriminatory under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Once you’re married, you and your spouse maintain separate scores, and any joint accounts appear on both individuals’ credit reports. (The idea that you start generating a joint credit score when you’re married is a common misconception, said Anthony Sprauve, a senior consumer credit specialist for the credit scoring company FICO.)
Joint accounts — that’s where marriage can start impacting your credit. If you open a joint account, you’re both equally responsible for it, meaning one person’s abuse of it could hurt both of your credit scores. At the same time, if you come into the relationship with a less impressive credit history than your spouse, taking on joint accounts could mean good things for your credit: If your spouse’s good habits keep accounts in good standing, the positive history of shared accounts shows up on your credit report, too.
Marriage Isn’t a Secret Weapon
Because your credit report doesn’t say whether you’re married, the credit advantages (and disadvantages) to sharing credit with another person are really a result of merged finances, not marriage. You can open joint accounts with someone you’re not married to, and you can make anyone an authorized user on one of your credit cards.
Whether you’re married or in a committed relationship, combining finances shouldn’t be taken lightly. With a joint account, you reap equal benefits and damage from each other’s behavior, but fewer companies are offering joint credit cards these days. The authorized user route is certainly an easier path to take, but it can be riskier. The primary accountholder is responsible for all activity on the card, while the authorized user gets a little of the positive credit history and is not liable if the account defaults.
“The primary cardholder really has to be thoughtful about why or what they’re trying to accomplish by trying to add on an authorized user,” Sprauve said. “They have to be connected to what the authorized user is doing so the authorized user doesn’t go off and get crazy (when using the card).”
Ideally, in a committed relationship, the communication about finances is strong, and it can be a good strategy for building credit if one person in the relationship has little credit history. You don’t get credit for the account history before you were added as an authorized user, but you could quickly start seeing the benefits of piggybacking on the good credit behavior of someone else.
If you want to see where your credit currently stands, check out your Credit Report Card — a free tool that updates two of your credit scores every month and grades you on each of the major credit scoring factors.
More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Score Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
- How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?
- What’s a Bad Credit Score?
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life