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Marriage doesn't wipe out credit history

Don Taylorq_v2.gifDear Dr. Don,
I am worried that when my fiance and I get married anything negative on either credit report will affect us. Will it affect us if it is not a joint account together and it happened before we got married? Please help me ease my mind so I can get back to planning my wedding.
-- Melissa Matrimony

a_v2.gifDear Melissa,
You both bring your credit histories with you into the marriage. When you jointly apply for credit, the lender will review both credit reports. In a community property state, the lender may consider both credit reports in all cases. That's because in such states, debt taken on during the marriage is a joint obligation even if only one spouse applied for credit.

The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin. Alaska allows couples to elect community property treatment. Contact your state's attorney general if you live in a community property state and want more information about community property statutes in general or as it relates to consumer lending. The National Association of Attorneys General Web site provides the contact information for your state.

I think it's better to be proactive and review your credit reports and credit scores to see if one or both of you need to work on improving your credit history. The Bankrate feature "How to get your free credit report" explains how to get your free credit report, but you have to pay to get your credit scores.

Correcting mistakes on a credit report through the dispute process can clean up a credit report. Because the information in your credit report determines your credit score, the score will improve. The Bankrate feature "Fixing mistakes on your credit report" explains the dispute process. Even if everything on the report is accurate, most negative information will drop off a credit report after seven years.

Figure out if there's a problem. If there is, figure out how you're going to handle it as a couple. Then, you can go back to planning your big day.

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select one of these topics: "Financing a home," "Saving & Investing" or "Money." Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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