Ask Stacy: How Do I Protect Myself From My Future Husband’s Bad Credit?

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Shelita has perfect credit and prides herself on being responsible. Her soon-to-be husband's story is a bit different. Should she call off the wedding?

Here’s a question I recently got from a reader. She’s found Mr. Right… well, almost.

I have a question and am not sure how to go about dealing with my fiance’s bad credit history.  We (both over 40) have been dating for two years, and engaged for 5 months.  I am retired Army, perfect credit, and a go getter.  On the other hand my fiance’ is a wonderful person, we have many of the same values except his credit history is trashed.  He thinks a credit score of 650 isn’t bad and I think it is terrible.  We come from the same background but I took financial responsibility and he hasn’t.  He feels that it is OK to let the bad credit fall off his report over time and I am against it.

I told him I refuse to marry into his debt and that I wanted a prenup (possible future judgements/garnishments).  He says he will get his finances together since it is so important to me.  How do we go about coming to an agreement on how he should start paying off his old debt?  He doesn’t make much money to go with a (reputable) debt relief agency based off our visit to one.  He wants to get better at being financially responsible but has no clue on how or when to get started and my way may not be the right way for him.

Please help, thank you in advance.

Congratulations, Shelita! Here’s the first thing you need to know: While marriage means sharing almost everything from the roof over your head to your evening meals, it doesn’t mean sharing your credit score. Even after tying the knot, your score is yours and his is his. You’re not “marrying into his debt” – at least, as long as you make it clear that you won’t be making any of his payments. I suspect you have.

All you have to do to maintain your high credit score is to keep your debts separate and keep your bills paid on time. Do that, and there’s nothing your future husband can do that will tarnish your high credit score.

If you’re worried about future obligations that you might enter into jointly, however, a pre-nup is one way to address those concerns. But keep in mind that as long as the debt in question was entirely his before you met, you shouldn’t be affected by any judgments or garnishments that he incurs. In short, if your name isn’t on the loan application, you don’t owe the money. Just don’t take out any joint loans unless you’re comfortable with making the payments yourself. Otherwise, his problems could become yours. Keep separate checking accounts and separate credit accounts.

That being said, we all want our significant others to share our opinions on things that are significant – and being responsible with money is certainly one of them. You had the right idea about going to a credit counseling organization, but I’m confused when you say, “He doesn’t make much money to go with a (reputable) debt relief agency.” Reputable debt relief agencies don’t charge a nickel for advice.  Check out this story: Finding Help With Debt for more information and links to help you find a good agency. You can also have him read my book Life or Debt 2010. Get it used or check it out at the library.

A 650 credit score – while hardly perfect – isn’t really all that bad. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse. If he’s true to his word and keeps all his bills paid, his credit score will gradually improve over time.

None of us are perfect and few of us are beyond redemption. So if your future husband is Mr. Right in every other way, count yourself lucky. And try not to let it drive you crazy.

I suspect that with your expert guidance and with your example, your man will come around. Virtually all of the women I’ve shared my life with became better money managers: not because I nagged or berated them, but because we discussed it, and they saw it wasn’t hard. They also saw that the satisfaction of being in control outweighs the effort required. And the transition period didn’t drive me up a wall, because even if they never achieved a perfect credit score or even paid their bills on time, at end of the day, it wasn’t my problem.

Hope that helps. All the best to both of you!

Stacy Johnson

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