Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets. Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Dear To Her Credit,
A year before we got a divorce, my
ex-husband had our house foreclosed on. We ended up having to file for joint bankruptcy.
Thanks to my ex's shenanigans, my credit score is about as bad as it can get.
I'm dating someone now and would
like to get married, but I'm worried about messing up my new husband's credit.
Will my irresponsible ex's problems get dragged into my new marriage? -- Lora
Wow -- a foreclosure and a bankruptcy. One or the other is
bad enough. In fact, people often go through bankruptcy to help them avoid
foreclosure. Bankruptcy often allows you to keep your home, plus it may
eliminate other debts so it's easier to keep up with your mortgage payments.
Of course, if your ex was
irresponsible as you say, he wasn't exactly seeking the best advice, let alone
So here you are now. Thank goodness
for second chances.
First the good news. "If you marry,
it's not going to hurt his credit score," says New York bankruptcy attorney Edward E.
Neiger. There's no such thing as a joint credit score, and the negative items
from the past on your credit history cannot somehow work their way over to his
report just because you marry.
Now the not-so-good news: Any time
you and your new husband apply for credit together, your credit history will
affect you both. Say you want to buy a house together. "If the banks
require two incomes to qualify, he might not be able to buy the house,"
It's not the end of the world,
however. If you've already told your husband about your financial struggles, he
won't be shocked. And although it may be more difficult for you to buy a house,
it's not impossible. People who have bankruptcies in their past buy houses --
they may need to save a little longer and work on building their credit
histories for a year or two, but it can be done.
When you remarry, remember these
points to protect his credit and start improving yours:
Do not add your new husband to any old
accounts with a negative history -- not even as an authorized user. You
don't want these accounts to show up on his credit report.
New joint accounts with you will not hurt his
credit as long as the accounts are always paid on time.
He can help you improve your credit score,
without hurting his own credit, by adding you to his current accounts as a
joint account holder.
Perhaps one of the most important
things you and your intended can do as your relationship becomes serious is to
start communicating and learning about finances together. You could take a
class at a local community center or library, or find books or courses online. You
may both be financially literate already, but going through a course gives you
an opportunity to talk about expectations and goals in a way that isn't likely
to come up otherwise. It's so important to understand each other, your
financial styles and where you want to go with finances before the wedding!
Congratulations on your new
relationship. The man you are dating sounds great -- people who are responsible financially tend to
be responsible and dependable overall. I wish you both the best of everything!
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