Your Credit Score & Your Marital Status

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Credit score compatibility probably isn't one of the areas you check before determining whether to marry the love of your life, but if either of you are prone to the occasional shopping spree, the question might very well pop into your head at some point: Will marriage affect your credit score? Similarly, if the love of your life doesn't last, how will a divorce affect your credit score?

While relationship decisions should ideally revolve solely around matters of the heart, we can tell you a little something about how your marital status can (and can't) affect your credit score.

Your Credit Score and Marriage

Good news: Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), a credit scoring system is not allowed to use your marital status as a factor. Similarly, creditors (i.e., anyone involved in granting credit, from banks and credit card companies to real estate brokers who arrange financing) can't use your marital status as a factor in deciding whether to extend credit to you — in fact, they can't even ask if you're widowed or divorced. In those rare instances where creditors are allowed to ask about marital status (if, for instance, you're applying for a joint account or a loan that's secured by property), they can only use the following terms: married, unmarried, or separated.

Bottom line: Your marital status will have nothing to do with your personal credit score. Please note, however, that your spouse's individual credit rating can influence a financial institute's decision if you apply for a joint loan or a joint account.

Your Credit Score and Divorce

In matters of divorce, your credit score standing might get a bit more complicated. Credit scores are based in good part on credit histories, but a spouse whose accounts are set up in the other partner's name may have little or no credit history upon which to create a credit score. And when a woman takes her husband's name, her credit history can be lost in the bureaucracy. Therefore, if you're married, divorced, separated, or widowed, you should contact the credit bureau(s) to make sure all relevant information is in a file under your own name.

Also, if you pay (or rely on) alimony, child support, or separate maintenance payments, a creditor can use that information as a factor in the loan or credit decision. If you (or your ex-spouse) have a proven history of being late on these payments, that can add another obstacle between you and your financial goal(s).

Divorce doesn't relieve you or your ex-spouse of financial obligations you agreed to during your marriage, either. To make as clean a financial break as possible when divorcing, you should:

  • Remain civil when communicating with your ex-spouse, so as to clear up any financial concerns as quickly and amicably as possible.
  • Divvy up your accounts. Decide who "gets" which account, then contact each creditor to transfer the debt to the chosen spouse's name.
  • Stay current on joint bills. Even if a particular debt will ultimately be your ex-spouse's responsibility, make sure it's paid on time. Otherwise, the creditor might try to make both parties liable for it.
  • Close joint accounts, or ask the bank or credit card company to remove your spouse's name as an authorized user.
  • If your spouse tries to rack up a lot of debt, cancel as many of the accounts as possible. Inform all creditors, in writing, that you are not responsible for these debts. They may still try to collect from you, but taking preventive action proves that you tried to act responsibly.
  • Once the divorce is final, close all joint accounts, and, if necessary, take out individual consolidation loans to cover your share of the joint bills. This can help ensure that you'll only be responsible for those bills you agreed to pay, and it can help you establish (or re-establish) your own credit history.

In the end, the best advice we can offer is this: Marry well, and keep your finances in order to ensure that you achieve and maintain an exemplary credit score.

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