Your hearts may beat as one when you marry, but your credit scores stay separate. If you and your spouse score at 700 and 500 respectively, credit bureaus aren't going to give you matching scores of 600 each. You also keep your separate credit histories. Even so, if your spouse has a good credit score or salary, marriage can make credit approval easier.
If you apply as a couple for credit -- for example, for credit cards, car loans or mortgages -- the lender will review both of your credit scores and histories. If your credit score is only average, a spouse with a stellar credit history and a great score will make it easier to land the loan. The downside is your score makes it harder for your spouse to qualify than if she were relying on her credit alone.
If you and your spouse both work, your combined incomes make you more attractive to lenders. On a mortgage, for instance, lenders want housing payments no higher than 28 percent of your income. Housing plus other monthly debt payments shouldn't top 36 percent. If you make $40,000 a year, and your spouse makes $50,000, you can handle a bigger monthly payment as a team.
Suppose you have a bad credit history when you say I do. Marriage gives you a chance to turn things around. Every loan you take out jointly and pay off reflects well on both of your credit scores. As your credit history improves, it should be easier to get future loans. If you need a credit card, becoming an authorized user on your spouse's card may be easier than taking out a new one yourself. Using the card responsibly will then improve your credit score.
Sometimes marriage doesn't help with credit approval. If, for instance, your spouse has a really bad score, yours may not be high enough to make up for it in the eyes of a lender. In that situation, it's often better to apply alone: Your odds of credit approval aren't any better than when you were single, but they're also not any worse. With your support, your spouse may eventually get his credit score up and then you can reap the benefits of applying as a couple.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.