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.
Dear To Her Credit,
I would like to get married within next few months, but I also need to declare bankruptcy after that (I wish I could do it earlier, but I can’t). My future husband has immaculate credit, and he is also Canadian and would move here to California where I live. What are the ramifications of this scenario for his credit? I guess the only thing I am concerned about is making sure his credit stays untouched. Is that possible? I don’t want to bring him into my financial mess. Thank you so much for your advice, it is appreciated very much! — Beth Ann
Dear Beth Ann,
Either get married and don’t file for bankruptcy, or file for bankruptcy and don’t get married — at least until the bankruptcy is all settled. Getting married and immediately filing for bankruptcy is a terrible idea.
Your future husband’s credit is a valid concern, but it’s not the only thing to consider. The bankruptcy process is stressful. You’ll have lots of paperwork, phone calls and meetings with legal professionals, and probably a meeting with the trustee at the court house. Many people find the whole thing demoralizing. Are you sure you want to start your new life with your husband this way?
A new marriage is stressful, too, even if it’s mostly good stress. Moving from Canada is a huge step for your fiance. Combined with your bankruptcy proceedings soon after the wedding, it’s all too much at once.
I wonder whether you have completely revealed your money troubles and your plans to file for bankruptcy. If you’ve been 100 percent honest with him, and he accepts the situation as it is, you’re lucky. If you have any suspicion he’s going to be surprised at how much you owe, especially if you want to file for bankruptcy just to get a fresh financial start for your marriage, there’s trouble ahead. After all, how would you feel if, after he moved from Canada, you discovered he had debts you didn’t know about?
To answer your question, you can file for bankruptcy before or after the marriage. In a community property state such as California, your spouse is not liable for the debts that are in your name and that preceded the marriage. So the filing shouldn’t affect his credit, though community property laws vary, and I would seek local qualified legal counsel before making any decision.
The fact that he’s moving is far more important to his credit: He will be starting over in the United States, creditwise, as credit histories do not cross national boundaries. So he’ll have no credit; you’ll have bad credit. Good luck on buying a house or taking out a car loan with that combination.
Not knowing how much you owe or why, I recommend you drop the bankruptcy idea. If you can afford to put off filing for bankruptcy for a few months, perhaps you can find a way to avoid it altogether. Many people say, “All I want is a fresh start,” but we have to earn our fresh starts. That fresh start for you is a fresh loss on somebody else’s books. I’m not minimizing your struggles with debt; most people considering bankruptcy have had some kind of bad luck, if not a run of it. But bankruptcy is very seldom the best solution.
Instead of trying to get out of paying your debts, I recommend getting help finding a way to pay them off. Perhaps they’re offering financial classes in your community, for example, at the library or at a local church. You and your fiance could take them together and get your marriage off to a good start! Or, you can find a nonprofit agency affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. They can help you see all your options for working your way out of debt.
Congratulations on your coming wedding! I hope you and your husband-to-be can work together to build a solid financial future for the rest of your lives.
See related: How bad credit affects a new marriage, Tips for immigrants building credit in the United States, Mine, yours and ours: Marriage and your money, Paying off joint debt brought into a marriage, Will bankruptcy filing hurt ex-spouse?, What to expect when filing for bankruptcy
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