Are You Ready to Say, “I Do” and Marry Someone with Debt?

Lidia Staron, author at OpenLoans
Lidia Staron   Head of Content
Personal Finance
I enjoy navigating people through important financial decisions.

"To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer ..." These words talk about the merging of two lives into one, in good times and in bad. Sounds great, doesn't it? You'll be combining your lives, living in one house, sharing furniture and other material things, creating a household budget, and maybe even getting joint accounts. The future is definitely looking bright and rosy.

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But what if you're marrying someone with debt? Does that mean you'll be taking on his or her debt too? Will your credit histories become one? What happens to all the good credit you've painstakingly built over the years? Before you say “I do,” let’s talk about marriage and debt, so you’ll know what you’re getting into.

Myths About Marrying Someone With Debt

What to know before marrying someone with debt.

Marriage, finances, and debt are not easy to tackle on their own. Having misconceptions about these things can make them even more difficult to handle. Before you make a lifetime commitment (or back out of one), it’s important that you know what’s true and what’s not.

1. You Merge Your Lives Together, Including Debt

Not exactly true. Their debt does not automatically become your debt and vice versa once you tie the knot. If you or your partner (or both) have debt before you get married, those debts are solely the responsibility of the person who incurred them even after marriage. For example, let's say your partner has $5,000 in credit card debt in his or her name before he or she said "I do." You're not going to held responsible for paying off that debt.

Unless, of course, you co-signed for his or her personal loan or opened a joint credit card account. When you co-sign a loan, even if you don't benefit from the money at all, you are assuming equal responsibility for paying the money back. The same thing goes with a joint credit card account. This means that in both instances, the debt will show up in your individual credit reports.

2. Your Credit Scores Combine When You Get Married

False. A person's credit score is connected to his or her Social Security number, which means that it can only be linked to one individual. That being said, it is possible for your spouse to hurt your credit score. For example, if you have a joint account and your partner continues to practice bad financial habits, this could negatively impact your own credit score. On the other hand, a joint account in good standing could help rebuild your spouse's credit.

3. Changing My Last Name Will Cause My Credit History to Start Over

As we've mentioned earlier, your credit history is tied to your Social Security number. While you may be changing your name, you won't be changing your Social Security number. In short, you retain whatever credit history you currently have after you get married. Unless, of course, you're planning to apply for personal loans for a wedding to pay the costs of it.

4. You Need to Apply for Loans Together

Yes, you'll be doing a lot of things together once you get married. But that doesn't mean you need to do so when applying for a loan. If your partner has a poor credit history, this could affect your chances of getting a good interest rate or even a loan when you apply together. The drawback here is that you can't include your partner's income on the application, which may limit the amount you can borrow.

What Happens When You Marry Someone with Debt?

Couples can stress about finances during marriage, but it helps to know what happens when you marry someone with debt.

We've already stated that getting married to someone with debt won't affect your credit. In addition, you won't be responsible for paying your spouse's debt, at least the debt he or she incurred before you guys tied the knot. Premarital debt does not become joint debt.

Whew! That's good, right? So, no worries then. Well, not exactly. Once you do get married, debt works a little bit differently. You and your spouse will share equal responsibility for any loans or credit cards for which you apply jointly. It'll be yours to share until death do you part.

But what about debt that's incurred in only one spouse's name? If your partner starts racking up more debt in his or her name after you're married, will you be held equally responsible? The answer to that question will depend on where you live.

Community Property States

If you live in a community property state, all debts incurred during the marriage is the responsibility of both spouses. It doesn't matter if only one spouse signed the paperwork. It doesn't matter if the debt was taken out without your knowledge. It doesn't matter if you didn't benefit in any way from the funds received through the online loans. As long as you live in a community property state, you share equal responsibility. So, what are these states? They are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Alaska is not a community property state, but you can set up your finances in that way if you both agree.

What does equal responsibility mean? If the debt goes unpaid, creditors can go after joint assets and income to pay off one partner's debt. This can include your bank accounts, cars, home, and land. It doesn't matter whose name is on the asset. You may not have been directly responsible for the debt, but you're legally responsible for paying it back.

Now, should you get a divorce, the premarital debts remain your own. What debts you brought into the marriage are still your sole responsibility when you get out of it. However, since any debts incurred DURING the marriage are jointly owned, once you separate, these debts will usually be divided equally between the two of you. We say "usually" because it will still depend on the community property laws in your state.

Common-Law States

Most states, except for the nine we mentioned, are common law states. Obviously, any loan which you applied for together (one in both your names) is debt that you share equally. But what about debt that is taken on by one partner in their name alone? In such a case, the debt does not become a shared responsibility. If one partner takes on new debt and only his or her name is on the paperwork, then he or she is solely responsible for paying it back. A creditor cannot go after joint property or assets to pay the separate debt of one partner.

However, there's a caveat. If the funds from the loan benefit the marriage (i.e. food, childcare, rent, mortgage), the debt will be considered the responsibility of both parties even if it is in just one person's name. For example, one spouse used his/her credit card to pay for groceries, utilities, or the mortgage.

Should I Marry Someone With Debt?

It’s not our place to say whether you should marry a person or not. Marriage is hard work and takes a lot of communication. If you’re marrying someone with debt, that doesn’t signify that things will eventually fall apart. But you should make it a point to talk openly, honestly, and regularly about money and your financial situation. You both need to be on the same page when it comes to how you’ll be handling finances. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee your marriage’s success. If you want to take extra precautions to protect your credit and assets before you tie the knot, a prenuptial agreement may be in order.

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