An overhaul of your loved one’s low credit score could save your finances and your relationship
If your credit score is soaring while your partner’s is in the dumps, would you be better off calling it quits?
While breaking up may be premature, experts say an overhaul of your loved one’s credit score could save your finances and your relationship.
When both people in a relationship place the same level of importance on their credit scores, they are likely “sharing the same priorities and backing those priorities up with behaviors that support them,” says Denise Hughes, a financial coach based in San Carlos, California. On the flip side, when it’s perceived that one partner’s credit score is dragging the couple’s financial prospects down, resentment can build in the relationship, Hughes adds.
If you want to make sure you and your partner are on the same financial page, these strategies may help the two of you get your credit scores in sync.
1. Create a guilt-free zone. When credit scores vary, sometimes the person with the higher score can feel superior and judge the other person, Hughes says. Or the person with the lesser score may feel judged, whether that’s the case or not.
Although I have the cash in hand, I have had to finance a few things I didn’t need to finance in order to improve my credit. We financed our new bed in my name, and I’m also looking to finance my wedding dress.
|— Brooke Rose|
Public relations manager
It’s already uncomfortable for the person with the lower score, says Brooke Rose, a Nevada-based public relations manager. Rose should know. “I’m the partner with the not-so-good credit,” she says. She lacks a lengthy credit history and admits she made a couple of bad moves right after college. When she shared her financial missteps with her fianc\xe9, he made a challenging situation easier by not dwelling on her past mistakes. “Together, we are solution oriented for better outcomes and not rooted in the could-have, would-have, should-have type of thinking,” she says.
If a couple can’t get past the finger-pointing, consider seeing a money coach or a therapist, Hughes suggests.
2. Review your scores together. Now that so many credit card issuers and websites (including this one at my.CreditCards.com) provide free credit scores, it’s easy to see how you and your partner stack up. “Get instant free credit scores and review each other’s together,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Not only do such sites let you monitor your scores, but they provide insight into which factors are having the greatest impact on your scores so you can make a plan to boost them, Woroch adds.
3. Take a long-term approach. Just as there are no quick fixes when it comes to building a relationship, there are no quick fixes to rebuilding credit. Eliminating debt and paying bills on time are the most effective steps one can take, says Karl Hoffman, a spokesman for credit counseling company Apprisen. “The only thing to heal a credit score is time,” Hoffman says, and good money habits.
Research suggests that the effort is worth it. An August 2015 study by the Federal Reserve found that not only are people with higher credit scores more likely to get and stay married, but couples with similar credit scores are less apt to part ways.
4. Don’t go for the bailout. If one partner has a tendency to run up credit card bills and the other partner constantly bails him out, that’s setting up a co-dependent relationship that can cause problems later. “If someone cleans things up for you, then you don’t have the opportunity to learn how to maintain and sustain a good credit score rating,” Hughes says. Instead, it’s important for the person with the lower credit score to take ownership of her financial missteps and strive to do better.
5. Use the tag-team approach. While you don’t want to be your partner’s financial savior, you may be able to help improve his credit score. For example, adding a partner to a credit card account as an authorized user can help that person establish a credit history. Likewise, it may make sense for the both of you to put extra money toward one partner’s debt, Woroch says, as long as the person who created the debt has amended his or her ways.
6. Let the one with the lower score do the financing. While it might seem natural to have the person with the best credit score finance any purchases, the other partner can use financing as a tool to improve her score by charging something and paying it off quickly. Rose is using this strategy to get her score up before she gets married. “Although I have the cash in hand, I have had to finance a few things I didn’t need to finance in order to improve my credit,” she says. “We financed our new bed in my name, and I’m also looking to finance my wedding dress.”
7. Create safeguards for the future. There is typically one person in a relationship who is better with money than the other, and that person most likely will have the higher score. Couples should take advantage of each other’s strengths, Woroch says, and the better money handler should “take control of debts and credit cards as well as other monthly utilities to ensure that everything is paid on time and in full.” However, that doesn’t give the other one permission to put their head in the sand. Both parties should stay involved with the household finances so either person could jump in if they had to.
When a couple is on unequal footing because of their credit, their relationship can flourish if they work toward creating a better financial picture together. “Getting it all on the table is best for your finances and for building trust,” says Woroch.