When your fiancé brings debts with them

Love Is Blind, But Creditors Aren't

by Gary Foreman

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Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am getting married next year and have a question concerning our individual credit histories. I have good credit and my Fiancé does not. I have worked hard to maintain a good credit rating, paying more than the minimum amount due each month. My Fiancé however is not good at paying his bills and unfortunately his credit is suffering because of it. I basically have to remind him what's due, how much, etc. If we get married will whatever he has owed previously (before me) affect my credit or not? I don't want responsibility for something I had no involvement in. I understand that whatever we do together after we are married is "ours" but what about before? Can you please tell me what is right?

Amber's right that just by getting married you do not assume the credit history of your spouse. His bad record will not automatically contaminate your good one. Your credit rating is only affected by what you do. Anything that you do yourself or jointly with someone else will be reflected on your record.

But Amber is also correct that events after the marriage will effect both of their credit files. And as time goes by their credit histories will begin to look similar.

Much as we'd like to, you can't marry just part of someone. We marry all of them. That includes their good and bad points. Also their assets and liabilities.

Unless Amber keeps all of her financial affairs completely separate it will be almost impossible to avoid the influence of his debts. For instance, he may have agreed to pay half of the rent. But he could end up in a position where he's legally required to pay back a debt before he honors his commitment to Amber.

Before the wedding I'd recommend putting together a joint budget. Just filling out a budget form together should be a real learning experience. Take plenty of time to discuss how each of you relate to money. Come to an agreement as to what's acceptable money behavior. Any couple planning marriage should do the same thing.

Remember that it's very difficult to avoid getting tangled up your spouse's problems. Whether your mate snores or has a financial troubles, it's pretty tough to ignore. And it will affect your relationship and home life.

Amber's fiancé isn't just bringing debts with him to the alter. He's also bringing promises to make future payments to different creditors. It's just like Amber is also saying "I do" to his payment schedule. The marriage doesn't release him from any commitments to repay debt.

The creditors won't attend Amber's wedding reception but they will expect to be repaid. So if he falls behind they'll go after any money that legally belongs to Amber's fiancé. That includes anything that's owned jointly with her.

There are several types of joint ownership. Space doesn't allow for a detailed discussion. But be careful. Many joint accounts (for instance a joint checking account) allow for either person to access all of the money. That means that all of the money is also available to creditors.

Amber's husband-to-be may not want to tap into a joint account. But if he falls behind his creditors could get a judgement and force him to. Courts generally don't care who contributed to the joint account. If he can legally access the money it's also fair game for creditors.

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Keeping Amber's finances separate isn't going to be easy. Want to buy a home? You'll need to plan on doing it in your name alone. Joint ownership would make the house a target for creditors. Even if Amber supplied every single dollar that went into the house.

This isn't going to be popular advice, but I'd suggest that Amber postpone the marriage until her fiance has better control of his debts. If the relationship is really important to him, he'll gladly make the sacrifice. If he's reluctant you need to know before the wedding.

Anyone who's been married for awhile will tell you that you won't change your spouse's habits after the wedding. Don't expect him to adjust his ways later. If anything, tendencies become more ingrained.

I don't mean to dump on somebody that Amber holds dear, but it's irresponsible to neglect to pay bills on time. Grown-ups don't do that type of thing. It could be symptomatic of an immature outlook on life.

Starting a marriage with this type of handicap is a real challenge. Remember that today's "reminder" will become tomorrow's "nagging". My guess is that if he ever starts getting calls from collection agencies he's not going to be very receptive to Amber's "reminders".

Hopefully Amber and her fiance will be able to set a solid foundation for a happy life together.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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