Dear Dr. Don,
Does a future wife inherit any debts her husband may have upon marriage?
— William Wonders
The fiancee doesn’t take on a legal obligation to repay her betrothed’s existing debts when she becomes his wife. Credit accounts are based upon who applies for credit and takes on the responsibility for making the payments.
Saying “I do” doesn’t mean she owes on his old credit accounts — as long as she’s not a joint account holder on the account.
Married couples don’t have a joint credit report. They each have a separate credit history. A credit report includes the credit accounts where the individual is account holder or authorized user on an account, but an authorized user isn’t responsible for repaying the debt. It’s the information in the credit report that’s used to come up with a credit score.
As long as the couple doesn’t live in a community property state, it’s pretty easy to keep their credit history separate after they’re married. Don’t co-sign any loans, don’t open any joint credit accounts and don’t let your spouse become an authorized user on your credit accounts. The downside of keeping your credit separate is that you can’t combine your incomes to jointly qualify for a mortgage loan or car loan.
In a community property state, debts taken on within the marriage are typically considered joint obligations even if just one spouse applies for credit. Nine states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — are community property states.
Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice.