When you get married, your credit files stay single.
And if one spouse has a good credit score and the other does not, it’s particularly important to maintain your credit histories’ separate status. There are ways to provide help if your credit-challenged mate wants it, but in a way that doesn’t risk harming your finances — or your relationship.
First, determine whether your partner even wants help, says Amanda Clayman, a financial wellness coach and therapist.
“One thing the more creditworthy person needs to find out is, how much is the other person bothered” by their low score, Clayman says. If they’re not too worried about it, she says, then they’re probably not motivated to change.
Do we have to talk about it?
Discussing high student loan balances and household budgets may not be the most enjoyable activity. Frame the discussion in terms of shared goals, because a high credit score by itself isn’t worth much, says Joshua Harris, a certified financial planner and lecturer at Clemson University.
Dreaming of a future together is fun; harping on about credit card use, not so much. Focus on the former, and work together on strategies to get there. Teaming up to address a bad score can improve your relationship, whereas nagging could cause friction. You’ll always have to talk about finances, and the better you communicate, the easier it will be.
Strategies to help
If your spouse wants help with their credit score, work together to identify the issue and find potential solutions.
Common reasons for a low credit score are:
- Late payments
- A high balance or balances on credit cards
- A collection or court judgment for unpaid debts
Here are three basic strategies that can help:
- Have your spouse open a secured credit card. Then simply put a small recurring expense on it, such as a Netflix subscription, and activate autopay.
- Make your spouse an authorized user on your credit card. Your mate need not even have a physical card. (Note that this strategy is more effective for those new to credit.)
- Help your spouse take out a credit-builder loan, a product that’s typically available at credit unions. Pick a payment you both can easily afford, make the payments on time, and receive the loan proceeds at the end. The lender reports your payment history to credit bureaus.
One thing to (probably) avoid
Less advisable is co-signing for a loan or a credit card. Although doing so can potentially bump up your partner’s score, missteps could result in your losing your own good credit, and that could cause relationship friction, too. Proceed with extreme caution if you decide to go this route.