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Checking Your Spouse’s Credit Report Affects More Than Finances

Credit Score, Personal Finance
Checking Your Spouse's Credit Report Affects More Than Finances
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Your spouse’s financial habits have a huge impact on your bank account, so it’s understandable that you’d want to see their credit report from time to time. And you can certainly see it, as long as you have permission. Ask your husband or wife to pull it for you, or sit down and do it together.

Wondering when or why you should check your sweetie’s report? Here are a few reasons:

Applying for a mortgage

If you’re getting ready to buy a home, take a look at the credit reports and the credit scores of everyone who will be a co-applicant for the loan.

Your credit doesn’t have to be stellar to get a mortgage. For example, borrowers with FICO scores above 580 can qualify for the maximum amount of financing from the Federal Housing Administration, as long as the lender’s other requirements for income and assets are met. Be aware, though, that unless your credit score is 740 or higher, you likely won’t qualify for the best rates.

Also keep in mind that FICO scores aren’t the only aspect of your credit the mortgage lenders will examine. A late payment or two is unlikely to scuttle your chances of getting a home loan, but lenders may frown on issues such as defaulting on a mortgage in the past or having a maxed-out credit card or a court judgment. If you don’t know whether your spouse has had such troubles, a frank conversation and an agreement to look at each other’s credit reports may be wise.

Checking for fraud

Let’s say you’ve been the victim of identity theft. You may not know how the thieves got ahold of your personal financial information. It’s possible they got it the good old-fashioned way, by stealing your mail, which means your spouse’s private data may also be at risk.

Most credit card companies are careful about what they send through the mail, but it’s still possible that a thief could get enough information to open accounts in your name. If one member of the family has been victimized, check the whole family’s credit history. Again, get your spouse’s permission before you pull up their report.

Even a deceased spouse could be a victim of fraud. Checking your husband or wife’s credit report after they’ve died may be worthwhile to see whether any outstanding accounts need attention and to make sure no new accounts pop up after death.

Building trust

It’s really not OK to look at someone else’s credit report without permission, but if your partner refuses to let you see it, that might be a red flag. In a 2014 NerdWallet study, 36.7% of respondents had hidden money from their significant others, and 27.5% had concealed their spending habits. Hiding money doesn’t necessarily mean your spouse has had an affair, but financial infidelity (keeping money-related secrets from your spouse) can also be very damaging to a relationship.

Regularly reviewing bank and credit card statements, along with credit reports, may help you and your spouse build trust and improve your ability to function as a financial team.

Good credit for all

Whether it’s your credit reports or your spouse’s, the information you gain from checking them can be used to build stronger credit.

  • Pay down credit card debt. Reducing your credit card debt load is likely to improve your credit score. As an added bonus, it may also reduce stress in your marriage.
  • Make payments on time. Paying on time — or not — has a big effect on your credit score. If you’re having difficulty keeping track of all your accounts, you might want to call the issuers and ask them to make the payments due on the same day. That way, you can pay them all at once.
  • Keep older accounts open. The average age of your accounts is figured into your credit score, so keeping open an older account is usually a good idea. If your oldest accounts predate your marriage, consider adding your spouse as an authorized user.
  • Apply for new credit sparingly. Every credit application will temporarily ding your credit score, so only sign on to loans and credit cards you actually need.

This article was updated Aug. 11, 2016. It originally published Feb. 24, 2015.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @vcmcguire and on Google+.