Wife has lower score, but gets better prescreened card offers


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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
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Dear To Her Credit,
My score is 721. My husband's is 818. We have similar differences on our Discover Card provided scores. Yet, I consistently receive excellent prescreened offers in the mail, while he does not. Neither of us is on any opt-out for credit card offers.

My credit utilization is about 22 percent, while his is about 1-3 percent. We are 0 percent offer users, and would like to start using my husband's information, but I am baffled as to how to. Thanks and looking forward to your insight!    -- Carla


Dear Carla,
I'm not sure why your husband doesn't get prescreened offers in the mail, but he can consider himself fortunate. Prescreened offers fill up your mailbox when you don't need new credit, and they probably aren't your best bet when you are ready for a new card. To top it off, prescreened offers are not guaranteed. You still have to apply, and based on that information, the bank may not extend credit at the terms advertised in the original offer.

The chances of an offer you get in the mail being the best you can do are almost nil. Let's say you get five offers a week in the mail. You know you want a new card, so you let them stack up on the counter until you have about 10 offers. It's not easy to compare cards, based on stacks of letters. You have to wade through a lot of sales pitches and promises of perks and benefits you may never use. You could make a spreadsheet to compare the interest rate, length of any introductory rate and annual fee, if those are the most important things to you. But that's a lot of work, and you're still only comparing 10 cards.

A far easier way to compare credit cards is to use a card comparison website, like this one. You can search among more cards and find ones with the terms and benefits most important to you. You can apply online as quickly as you can apply for a "prescreened" card.

If you want to use your husband's higher credit score to get your best deal, that's easy. Just make sure he's the one that applies for the card.

Getting a great card in your husband's name is a start, but it doesn't solve the issue of your credit score not being at its best. While 721 isn't a bad score, aiming for at least the mid-700s would be better. I sometimes hear from readers who think if one spouse has better credit, they should start using only that spouse's credit, and basically give up on building the credit history of the lower-score spouse. Some people go so far as to stop paying credit card bills owed by the lower-score spouse, which is, of course, a very bad idea. For one thing, if anything happens to the higher-score spouse or to the relationship, one newly single person has to start an independent life with subpar credit. That only makes a difficult time even worse. Another scenario is that you may need relay on both credit scores and other financial information to apply for a mortgage or other joint loan. Or you may apply for a job that requires a credit check, and you won't be able to rely on your husband's credit history.

To start improving your score, you should obtain and review your credit reports. Go to, the site where, under federal law, the major credit bureaus must provide you with your credit score once a year for free. They should note factors that may have lowered your score. Sometimes the report will say you have too many cards, not enough credit mix or high balances, so you can take corrective action. Review your credit report carefully to see if there are any mistakes that should be removed. Pay down balances and make sure you have enough credit, but not too many accounts.

On the other hand, your score may be lower simply because you haven't had credit long enough. If that's the case, you just have to keep making payments on time and demonstrating that you are an excellent credit risk and your score will get better over time on its own.

Applying for a new card with a 0 percent introductory offer in your husband's name can be a good move now, especially if you use this opportunity to pay off your own cards. Take care of your own credit history at the same time, however. You never know when you'll need to have an excellent credit score.

See related: Preapproved vs. prescreened card offers: A big difference

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Published: September 18, 2015

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