Myths vs. Facts: Marriage and Credit

Getting married means merging your lives – and may also mean merging your finances. But there are some misconceptions about tying the knot and how it may impact credit reports and credit scores – or not. 

"No one said that talking about credit habits, credit card debt, budgets, retirement accounts, and savings is romantic. But it is important," said Nancy Bistritz-Balkan, vice president of consumer education at Equifax.

"If you and your partner decide to merge your finances, understanding his or her philosophy when it comes to credit, contributing to savings, setting financial goals, and creating regular budgets is not a conversation to shy away from. It is simply an important part of establishing a united approach for how you as a couple will handle these things in the future."

See how much you know about marriage and credit.

1.    Your credit reports merge with your spouse’s when you get married.

FALSE. Your credit reports are linked to your personal information, which typically includes your Social Security number, so your credit reports and credit histories remain separate when you say “I do.” However, if you and your spouse open a joint account, or one of you adds the other as an authorized user on a credit card account, the history of that account will be reflected on both of your credit reports. 

2.    Changing my name won’t affect my credit reports and credit history.

TRUE.  If you change your name after marriage, your credit reports will be updated with the new information. But your credit history and credit reports will not otherwise change. 

After the Social Security Administration and creditors are notified of your name change, the new information will be reported to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so it's not necessary to contact them.

If you do want to contact the credit bureaus, you can contact Equifax by sending a letter with your request and a copy of your marriage certificate to:

Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374 

Be sure to include your name, address and Social Security number in your letter.

You can contact Experian  and TransUnion online to find out the proper procedures for updating your credit reports.

3.    Getting married impacts credit scores.

FALSE. Credit scores aren’t impacted in any way just from tying the knot.

4.    Getting married automatically makes all your accounts joint accounts.

FALSE. Unless you add your spouse as an authorized user on a credit card account or the two of you jointly apply for a loan or open a joint credit card account, your individual accounts will not merge. 

5.    My poor credit won’t impact my spouse’s credit reports and credit scores.

TRUE. If one partner has had credit problems, the good news is that won’t affect the other partner’s credit reports or credit scores. 

If the two of you open a joint account, however, that information will appear on both your credit reports (if the lender reports to any of the three major credit bureaus). And if you jointly apply for financing for a large purchase, such as a home or a car, lenders and creditors usually check both spouses’ credit information.

Some mortgage or other lenders may take the lowest middle credit score between both of you. That means they check scores from all three major credit bureaus and compare your middle score to your spouse’s, then use the lower one.  

6.    My spouse’s previous bankruptcy won’t impact my credit reports or credit scores if we keep our finances separate.

TRUE. Your credit histories always remain separate, unless the history includes a joint account or an account where one person is an authorized user. But it might be difficult for your spouse to be approved for credit as long as the bankruptcy remains on his or her credit reports. This timeframe varies from seven to 10 years, depending on the type of bankruptcy.

7.    My spouse and I are still each entitled to one free copy of our individual credit reports annually from each of the three major credit bureaus.

TRUE. You and your spouse are each entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Requesting a free copy of your credit report has no impact on your spouse, and vice versa.

8.    If I file a dispute over information about a joint account I have with my spouse I think is inaccurate or incomplete on my credit report, the information is automatically disputed on my spouse’s credit report.

FALSE. Because you both have separate credit reports, filing a dispute with one of the three major credit bureaus over information on your credit report won’t trigger a dispute on your spouse’s behalf. He or she would need to file their own dispute.

9.    This is my second marriage. Having my maiden name and both my married names on my credit reports may impact my credit scores.

FALSE. Personal identifiable information such as your name does not impact credit scores. 

10.    Now that we’re married, we have to apply for everything together.

FALSE. Married couples are not required to apply for credit jointly. You can still apply for individual accounts without your spouse co-signing or being otherwise involved. If one partner has higher credit scores, applying individually – not jointly – for an account may be one option.