"Does marrying someone with bad credit affect my credit score?"

The short answer to that question is: No, it won't. Your credit record will remain your credit record, and your new spouse's credit record will remain theirs. Same for your credit scores.

But the longer answer is more complicated because your spouse's credit can affect your finances in a variety of other ways, as Stephanie Genkin, CFP, points out in her Advisor Insight, below.

Here are some of the basics you and your spouse both need to know.

Key Takeaways

  • Marrying a person with a bad credit history won't affect your own credit record.
  • You and your spouse will continue to have separate credit reports after you marry.
  • However, any debts you take out jointly will be reported on both your credit report and your spouse's.

How Credit Scores Work

Your credit score is an assessment of your creditworthiness, based on the items in your credit report at one or more of the three major national credit bureaus. Your credit report includes your borrowing history and your track record for repaying your debts, such as monthly credit card bills, on time.

Having a good credit score is important not only when you want to borrow money to buy a car or a home but even when you aren't borrowing. An insurance company, for example, might look at your credit score in setting your rates, a landlord might look at it in deciding whether to rent you an apartment, and a prospective employer might check it before offering you a job. In other words, it is used to assess how reliable—or risky—you are likely to be in any number of situations.

You may not have any credit history before you get your first credit card, but after that it will build up month after month. By the time you get married you may have accumulated a substantial record.

Even as a married couple, you and your spouse will have two separate credit histories, tied to your respective Social Security numbers.

Negative information in a credit report becomes less important over time and will eventually disappear altogether.

Taking Out a Joint Loan

If you decide to take out a loan jointly with your spouse, your lender is likely to check both of your credit histories in deciding whether to make the loan. If your spouse has a terrible credit record—and you have enough income to handle the loan payments by yourself—you might consider taking out the loan only in your name.

If you succeed in getting a joint loan, your lender is required by law to report the loan and your payment history in both of your names. So, for example, if you have a joint car loan and you miss any payments, those will show up on your credit history and that of your spouse.

Negative information in a credit report won't haunt you forever, though. By law, the credit bureaus are required to remove it after a certain period of time. For late payments that's seven years; for bankruptcies, either 7 or 10 years, depending on the type of bankruptcy. What's more, as the company behind the widely used FICO credit scoring system points out, the older the negative information is, the less of an impact it will have on your score.

So, bottom line, if your spouse has a bad credit history, it won't directly affect your credit score and may only be a factor if you apply jointly for a loan. And if the two of you pay your bills on time going forward, it won't be many years before your spouse also achieves a good credit score.

Advisor Insight

Stephanie Genkin, CFP®
My Financial Planner, LLC, New York, NY

Marrying someone with bad credit won't affect your personal credit score, but it could have an impact in other ways.

Say you two want to buy a house. When you shop for a mortgage, you put down both your credit scores. It seems logical, but if you go that route, you probably won't be able to borrow as much, and you'll be borrowing at higher interest rates than if you applied with just your own good credit. Two scores are not better than one, in this case: The lower score will drag you both down.

So, if your partner has a poorer credit history than you do, be sure to keep your credit accounts separate after you wed. No joint credit card... no consolidating student loans. Keep it all separate.