Will bankruptcy scare off future spouse?

A single woman worries that her financial failings will turn men away

To Her Credit columnist 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.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I am currently contemplating Chapter 13 bankruptcy because I lost my job and have been trying for two years to get a loan modification for my house in Florida. I was given a sale date and decided to attempt a short sale, which has proven futile in the past six months.

One of my concerns is that I am single. I would love to be married. How would this decision affect me in the years to come? Also, how would it affect my spouse when I do get married? -- Ann

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Ann,
The three factors of high unemployment, falling real estate prices and Florida's "deficiency judgment" laws together have created a perfect storm for your finances. If it's any consolation, you have plenty of company.

As you apparently are aware, Florida is a deficiency judgment state. That means if your house is sold for less than you owe on it, your mortgage lender can pursue you for the difference. One way to resolve the deficiency owed to the mortgage lender is to file for bankruptcy.

Of the two types of bankruptcy available to individuals, you probably will choose Chapter 7, not Chapter 13  bankruptcy. Boston bankruptcy attorney Theodore Connolly says, "Chapter 13 bankruptcy would not be an option because you need a steady income to finance a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan. You should consider a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in its place, especially if you live in a state where you have personal liability for the deficiency on the sale of the home if the sale price does not cover the mortgage."

Bankruptcy should always be a last resort. If your only debt is the potential deficiency judgment, I wouldn't file too quickly. Creditors don't always pursue every case, especially if it's not in their interests to do so because the borrower has no money or other assets. I have known people who filed for bankruptcy in large part because of debts when the creditors never pursued them for the debts.

Your credit score has already been affected by your missed mortgage payments, and bankruptcy will lower it even more. That's the bad news. The good news is that your credit score doesn't need to stay down for long.

"With bankruptcy's fresh start, you can start rebuilding your credit score almost immediately without the burdensome payments that you couldn't service prior to filing," says Connolly. "Instead of struggling while picking and choosing what bills get paid each month while others are paid late, you should be in a position to handle your bills and pay on time. With responsible bill paying, your credit score will continue to rise."

You won't be able to turn around and buy a house, car or any other major purchase right away, of course, at least without paying exorbitant interest rates. Other than that, you may be surprised how quickly you can put bankruptcy behind you and rebuild your credit. Especially in hard-hit Florida, bankruptcy does not have the stigma it once did. If you can keep your history clean from now on, creditors and other people interested in your credit history will see you as you are -- a survivor of financial hard times who is making the best of it and proving to be a lower credit risk now.

I wouldn't worry about a bankruptcy scaring off a potential future husband. As long as you are completely honest, I think most people can tell the difference between a habitual credit abuser and someone whose financial ship capsized in the storm of the recession. Connolly agrees. "If they wanted to marry you before, they will even with a bankruptcy in your past. If it changes their mind, you're better off in the end, trust me!" he says.

After marriage, your credit score is not combined with your spouse. If you and your new husband apply for credit together, however, both of your scores will be taken into consideration. That could result in a higher interest rate you have to pay or even a loan rejection. The temporary fix is simple. Connelly says, "The best thing to do if one spouse has a good credit score and the other's is bad is to seek credit in the name of the spouse with the good credit score."

Eventually, as you pay your bills on time, you can reapply for credit and continue to build great credit yourself.

Your current financial trials may affect you in the years to come, but not as much as you may think. In fact, many of us who have been through financial hardship at one time or another learned a great deal in the process. If nothing else, we learned to appreciate being able to pay our bills and buy necessities without undue stress. Good luck! I hope you find both the financial peace and the happy marriage you are seeking.

See related: You're eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but should you file?, A guide to navigating through bankruptcy

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Updated: 12-12-2018