Q&A: If I get married, will spouse be responsible for my old card debt?

Contrary to popular belief, there's no such thing as "joint credit score"

The Credit Guy columnist Todd Ossenfort
Todd Ossenfort has been chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling since 1998. He writes our weekly "The Credit Guy" column, answering reader questions about credit counseling and debt issues.

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Dear Credit Guy
If I were to get married, would my spouse be responsible for my old credit card debt? – Brenda


Dear Brenda,
The short answer to your question is no. Debt you bring into a marriage remains your debt alone. The same will be true for you of any debts your spouse may have. You will not be responsible for any debts he might bring into the marriage.

However, if you live in a community property state, all debts acquired during the marriage are typically considered jointly owned. So, things could get tricky if you and your husband refinanced your old debts in both your names or if you default on your debt and have jointly owned assets that the collector can go after.

The first thing that needs to happen, if it has not already, is for you and your soon-to-be spouse to have a frank conversation about finances.

  • Let him know about the debt, what you are doing to take care of it, and assure him that he will not have any responsibility for the debt once you are married.
  • In fact, this would be a great time for both of you to review each other’s credit reports so that no one is surprised at a later date.

The myth of “joint credit score”
Because it is common for married persons to apply jointly for credit, this often leads to misunderstandings about how credit works. It is important to understand that credit scores and reports always apply to one single individual. There is no such thing as a “joint credit report” or “joint credit score.”

This does not mean that your situation might not affect you both if you seek joint credit once you are married. For instance, if you want to buy a house together and try to qualify for a mortgage, your old credit card debt could be a factor. This will be especially true if you have not resolved the situation prior to applying for a mortgage, or any other type of credit.


Video: Score a free honeymoon using rewards points

Options to deal with old card debt
Since you referred to your “old credit card debt,” I think you may not have figured out how to resolve the situation. One thing I can tell you is that it is never a good idea to just ignore debt thinking it will simply go away.

What I would suggest is that you explore your options for clearing this debt now:

  • If your debt has been sold to a third-party collector, they can be relentless when it comes to collecting on these accounts.
  • You may be offered a settlement, but you need to know what that will do to your credit report and score, as well as any tax consequences from forgiven debt you might face.
  • My suggestion would be to contact a qualified, nonprofit credit counseling agency to help you. A good counselor will go over all of your options, including settlement, and help you make a decision.
  • If you're looking for an agency, see the Federal Trade Commission's advice on choosing a credit counselor.

I hope these tips will help you plan for financial life together with your soon-to-be spouse.

Take care of your credit!

See related: 6 credit card rules for newlyweds, Getting married? Don't say “I do” to bad credit

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Updated: 11-22-2017