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Joint accounts: Till debt do you part

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
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 wrote 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
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
My credit score is in the 600s. I went through some difficult times and, truthfully, my credit score was the last thing on my mind.

I just got married last year, and my husband has a perfect credit history and a score in the low 800s. I have one joint credit card with him that has always been paid on time. We have always kept separate credit cards, accounts and so on, except for this one card. Does anything negative on my credit history affect his perfect credit because of the one joint card? (Remember, this card has always been paid in advance or on time and has never been late.) -- Casey

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Casey,
You can rest assured that having a joint card with your husband does not cause anything in your credit history to move over to his credit history or affect his score. You each have your own credit history, and the only direct way you affect each other's scores is through your joint accounts. Some spouses keep all their finances and accounts separate. If they do that, they might have wildly different credit scores their whole married lives.

A married couple's finances have a way of merging even when the husband and wife try to keep their finances separate, however. You share a home and lifestyle, and you would each help each other in need. I once heard of a man who went on a tropical vacation without his wife because he could afford it and she couldn't. (He made twice as much money, by the way.) That's the exception, though!

We can make some safe assumptions about your husband's financial habits. A score in the low 800s is not the result of accident. Your hubby must be organized and disciplined; it wouldn't take many "Oops, I forgot that bill" incidents to knock that score down. He, no doubt, has educated himself about credit so he knows how to avoid innocent mistakes, such as closing his oldest credit accounts. And unless he makes an awful lot of money, he has learned to think long term and not buy everything he wants the moment he wants it so he can live within his means.

Sometimes when a financially struggling person marries someone who is more financially stable, there is a bit of a learning curve for both of them. The person who has never had money may feel like there is plenty of it and start spending. If you're used to living closer to the edge, it's natural that your husband could seem overly cautious. Just remember, being cautious is how he has built a long track record of financial stability. Cautious people like to have a little bit more in their checking accounts, a lot more in their savings or other accessible accounts, and proportionally more money coming in than going out.

You, on the other hand, have much to offer coming from your recent experience with financial hard times. There's no faster way to learn to live on less than by necessity! If you've ever had to balance your checkbook to see if you can buy groceries, or had to take a calculator with you to add up the food in your cart as you go along, you know things about saving money that can't be taught in a book.

This is an excellent time for you and your husband to take a good look at your finances together and plan your future.

Your credit score by itself cannot affect your husband's score. But with a little effort, you and your husband can make a big difference in your total financial picture and your credit score.

Take care of your credit!

Credit card videos

For more on this topic, check out this video:
Credit card video: The perils of sharing a credit card

See related: Authorized user or joint account holder?, Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ

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Published: April 3, 2009


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