You're about to tie the knot -- congratulations! Among the hundred or so things you need to think about right now, the impact of your marriage on your FICO credit score probably ranks pretty far down the list. But if you ever get a few spare minutes, you might want to learn how marriage impace FICO scores -- especially if your score is much higher than that of your spouse-to-be, or vice versa. Actually, just getting married does not alter your FICO score at all. It's what you do after you say "I do" that might raise or lower your credit standing.
FICO Score versus Credit Report
Many people confuse FICO scores and credit reports. Your credit report is a record of your financial life, including those pizzas you bought on plastic back in college. Your credit report contains basic contact and identifying information, but also entries such as student loan payments, car payments and inquiries such as applications for credit cards. Your FICO score is a numeric representation of your credit profile. It is a proprietary measurement compiled by the Fair Isaac Corporation, using information from your credit report. Your credit report will reflect name changes, change of residence or other factors associated with your upcoming nuptials. But your actual FICO score is not affected by factors that are not directly related to your financial activities.
Pre-Marital versus Post-Marital FICO Score
Unless you've been living under a rock, you have a credit history and a FICO score. Your pre-marital FICO score reflects your financial activities before your wedding date. After you get married, you will retain a separate FICO score from that of your spouse. If you open a separate checking account, or apply for credit cards in your own name and without relying on your spouse's income, those transactions will affect only your credit report and your individual FICO score.
Joint Accounts and Your Fico Score
Many couples establish joint checking and savings accounts either before getting married or after they have wed. You and your spouse can also apply for joint credit cards, or you might decide to submit a joint mortgage application to purchase a new home. Joint accounts or joint applications affect your credit report and FICO score as well as those of your spouse. Lenders evaluate joint credit and mortgage applications based on the credit profiles of both spouses. Some lenders will merge the credit reports and FICO scores to generate an average credit profile, while more conservative lenders will approve or deny credit based on the lower of the two FICO scores.
Avoiding FICO Score Problems
You and your intended spouse can take steps to minimize the damage one spouse's bad credit does to the FICO score of the other spouse. If a period of poor health or unemployment is the cause for one spouse's bad credit, a possible solution is for both spouses to maintain separate credit until the FICO score of the spouse with bad credit improves. In extreme cases, the spouse with good credit can consult with an attorney about drafting a pre-marital or post-marital agreement, or establishing a trust to keep separate assets out of the reach of creditors.
- Kiplinger: Marriage and Your Credit Score
- Bankrate.com: Help! I'm a Victim of ID Theft -- by My Wife
- Bankrate.com: Can You Divorce Your Spouse's Bad Debt?
- Bankrate.com: When Good Credit Marries Bad
- MyFico: Marriage and Credit -- Tying the Knot In More Ways Than You Might Think!
- MyFico: What's In Your Credit Report?
- MyFico: What’s In your FICO Score
- MyFico: What's Not In Your FICO Score
- CNN Money: Honey, Your Credit's Bringing Me Down
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.