This page was originally published in early 2016 and includes expert quotes from that time. The rest of the article has since been updated.

Key takeaways

  • Accessing a spouse's credit report without permission or a valid reason is considered fraud or identity theft.
  • If you need a copy of your spouse’s credit report, always ask for their permission first or ask them to obtain it and share it with you.
  • Sharing credit reports can be beneficial for couples, as it can help them understand each other's financial habits and set financial goals together.

If you’ve opened a credit card with your spouse or bought a car or a house together, you’ve created a shared credit history with your partner. How your significant other handles their finances has a direct impact on you — and your credit score.

But that doesn’t mean you have a right to check up on their credit history without permission. Always ask first. In fact, accessing a credit report that’s not your own could be a form of fraud or identity theft.

“Everyone has their own credit report, and it’s private to them,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy at Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus.

Federal regulations on checking spouse’s credit report

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates who can access a credit report. It allows credit reporting agencies to provide credit information to people or entities with a “valid reason.” Being married to someone does not qualify as a “valid reason” under this act.

If you access your spouse’s credit report without their permission, it could be considered a form of identity theft or fraud. Keep in mind that this is true even if you’re getting a divorce.

How to obtain your spouse’s credit report legally

Asking your spouse for permission to obtain their credit report can be tricky, according to Bruce McClary, senior vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. That’s because some people view sharing such information as an invasion of privacy even if they’re married.

“It’s not yours to take,” McClary says. “Being married to them doesn’t matter; you still have to get their permission.”

If you do make the request — and McClary says it should be a request, not a demand — be prepared to reciprocate.

This could serve as an excellent opportunity for a financial conversation between you two, discussing your monetary goals and future planning.

If you want to legally access your spouse’s credit report without permission, you’ll need a subpoena or other court order. Rod Griffin says a court order is permissible within the Fair Credit Reporting Act, although a report obtained in this manner likely would be given to the attorneys in your case or the court itself, not directly to you.

How Sharing Credit Reports Helps Couples With Financial Planning

Discussing and sharing credit reports as a couple can help you understand each other’s financial habits and set financial goals together. For example, if one of you has a better credit score, you might decide to apply for credit cards under that person’s name to secure the best rates. Plus, if you notice any errors in either of your credit reports, you can dispute them together.

Spouses should get their reports from all three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — since any one might contain errors, and each likely will contain slightly different information, according to Lili Vasileff, founder of Divorce and Money Matters, a divorce financial planning firm in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Once couples have the reports, Vasileff suggests that:

  • Spouses with excellent credit can strategize how to get the lowest interest rates.
  • If one spouse has bad credit, they can work together to improve their credit score.
  • They can dispute credit report errors that could cause them to pay higher financing costs.
  • They can monitor each other’s credit habits, including open credit accounts, high balances and late payments.
  • They can make sure they each have credit established in their own names — an important precaution in the case of divorce or a spouse’s death.

If your spouse won’t share their credit report with you, you might have reason to be concerned.

“Hidden in those reports could be credit taken out in your name jointly with your spouse that you had no idea about or a mortgage for a property you didn’t even know your spouse owned,” Vasileff says.

The bottom line

When it comes to accessing your spouse’s credit report, always ask for their permission first. Not only is accessing someone’s credit report without their consent a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but it can also break the trust between you and your partner. Alternatively, openly discussing and sharing credit reports can be beneficial for married couples, because it can help you understand each other’s financial habits and set financial goals as a team.