ADVERTISEMENT

You're marrying your fiance's debts, too

By Gary Foreman

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for CreditCards.com

Ask a question.

'New Frugal You' archive

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear New Frugal You,
I'm planning a wedding for early next year. We're deeply in love, but I have a problem: I have a good credit score (over 750) and my boyfriend does not. It's not that he's a bad person. He's just fallen behind in a few bills. What should I do? When we get married, would I be responsible for any of his debts? And what about my credit score? When we get married, do our credit scores get married, too? I love this man, but I also love my good credit! -- Engaged But ConcernedAnswer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Concerned,
You're absolutely right to guard your credit score carefully. Not only can it affect how much you pay to borrow money, but it can also affect your ability to get jobs and apartments, and how much you pay for auto insurance. The trend to use your score for more things will likely continue. So maintaining a good credit score is important for all of us.

Let's start at the beginning. You will not automatically marry your Intended's credit score. The reason is simple, but important: You cannot be held responsible for any debts that you did not incur or agree to be responsible for.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it's difficult to keep your credit scores separate after you are married. Let's see what we can do to protect you.

As much as is possible, you'll want to keep your financial affairs separate from Intended's. That means no joint credit cards, checking accounts, leases or payments. Autos, homes and investment accounts all need to be kept totally separate.

It's important to understand that any joint accounts could put you at risk. For instance, if he missed a payment on a joint credit card, both of your scores will be hit. Plus, creditors often can take assets from joint accounts, even if you were the only one to put money into the account and the debt is not yours.

We don't have the space to do a detailed discussion on the various types of joint accounts. But be aware that in some states, it's assumed that both partners own all of the account. So even if your Intended wouldn't take the money himself, a court could order him to use all of that money to satisfy a debt.

Keeping your financial affairs separate won't be easy. If you want to purchase a condo or house, you'll need to qualify solely on your own income. Legally, you'll be fully responsible for the mortgage, taxes, insurance and repairs. The same thing would apply for other major purchases, such as cars.

Even if you do keep completely separate accounts, you'll still have some challenges. He'll be bringing all his debts with him to the marriage. Any commitments that he's made to creditors will still be in place.

Your intended will need to honor those promises before he does anything for you. For instance, his oversized payment for the truck -- you know, the one that he owes more on than it's worth -- must be paid before he gives you any money for groceries or rent.

You'd be wise to create a joint budget before you get married. Money squabbles are the cause of many breakups. Your circumstances make that danger even greater. Knowing what income and expenses you each bring to the marriage could help avoid arguments later. At the very least, you'll each know what's expected of you.

Finally, Concerned, I have some advice that you might not like: I'd recommend a long engagement, for a number of reasons.

It's an opportunity to see how committed your fiance is to your relationship. If we're being honest, we'll admit that some people get into debt problems because they want instant gratification and lack the ability to stay committed to things. That's not good for a marriage that you hope will last for decades.

If your fiance is serious about you, he'll be willing to make sacrifices to pay down his debts. He'll be willing to take a part-time job or forgo some purchases. Over the course of a year, you should see his total debt slowly decrease.

On the other hand, if he's not able to make progress before the marriage, don't expect that you'll change his ways later. The divorce courts are full of people who thought that they'd change their spouse after the wedding.

Delaying the wedding gives you time to watch how Intended handles things and also gives you time to consider what it might be like to answer collection calls meant for him.

They say that opposites attract. And, that might be true. But you need to be sure that opposites can live together for years, especially if your intended shows no ability to overcome his debts.

See related: Finding a frugal mate, Mine, yours and ours: Marriage and your money

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Published: December 22, 2011


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Follow Us


Updated: 09-26-2016


Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


ADVERTISEMENT