Can Mortgage Accumulated Prior to Marriage Affect the New Spouse?

You can marry a spouse with debt: You won't be responsible for it.

You can marry a spouse with debt: You won't be responsible for it.

You're not responsible for any debt that your spouse took on before you became legally wed. This includes a mortgage loan, even if you and your spouse are living in the home that this loan has made possible. Be warned, though, that your spouse's debt could impact you in other ways.

Mortgage Debt

You and your spouse lived separate lives before you were married. You each made your own financial decisions. This means that you are in no way responsible for paying off any of your spouse's debts if your spouse should unexpectedly die. If your spouse dies before paying off a mortgage loan, for example, the bank holding that loan will not be able to force you to make the remainder of the monthly loan payments. This holds true even if you've been living in the home that your spouse purchased thanks to this mortgage loan.

Other Implications

This doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't be concerned about your spouse's mortgage debt. If your spouse dies before paying off the mortgage loan, the bank could attempt to pay off the mortgage debt by withdrawing funds and assets from the spouse's estate. This could leave you with less money than your spouse meant for you to have. It could also leave you without a home. The bank could decide to sell the home and use the proceeds from the sale to cover the remaining debt.

Credit

If your spouse has a history of missing mortgage payments or making them late, this could impact your ability to take on new loans. With every late payment, your spouse's credit score will have taken a hit. This is important; when you and your spouse apply for a new loan together -- whether to finance a car or a home -- lenders will only consider the lowest credit score among you. If your score is a healthy 740 and your spouse's a weak 620, your lender will toss out your score and only consider your spouse's. This could either leave you with a rejection or a far higher interest rate on your new loan.

Planning

It's important to speak honestly with your spouse about your partner's debt and past financial history. You'll need to create an estate plan to determine how your spouse's assets will be divided if your spouse dies without paying off his or her debts. This way, if the bank has to sell your home, you'll at least receive a fair share of the profits.

About the Author

I'm a veteran freelance writer with more than 15 years experience writing for newspapers, consumer magazines and trade publications. My stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, BusinessWeek Online, Business 2.0 Magazine and many other publications. I am also the managing editor of a real estate magazine based in Chicago and the writer of www.propertycrossroads.com, a blog devoted to residential real estate. This year, my first comic-book series, GEARZ, was published by Blue Water Publishing. The company will be publishing three other of my comic-book mini-series in 2008 and 2009.

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