Editorial Policy

He won't marry me until I fix my credit

Erica Sandberg

January 31, 2014

QDear Erica,

What do you think of a guy who says I need better credit before we get married? Yeah, my credit is bad. I got behind on accounts and maxed out two cards in the past. My debt is $12,000 total, plus some extra that's been added on since I fell behind. I was trying to help my parents who couldn't afford their own bills. I'm still paying it down as quickly as I can. Will my credit really ruin my boyfriend's if we get married? Is he being paranoid? Do you think he's right to say that we shouldn't get married if I've got bad credit? And what can I do? — Tess

AHi Tess,

I think, “There goes a man with some common sense!”

You see, when the two of you tie the knot, he'll be connected to your money habits. Even when couples try to keep their banking business separate, ultimately there is some merging of finances. He doesn't want to be hurt down the line.Ask Erica

While it's true that you didn't randomly overspend and then thumb your nose at your creditors, you did choose to help your parents to the eventual destruction of your personal credit. Even a noble decision can have disastrous results.

I give you kudos for making an effort to fix the problem, but your betrothed can't un-see what he saw: financial insecurity. Of course he'll wonder if you'd descend into bad debt again if your parents reach out for money. He doesn't want that, and neither would I.

So is your brush with debt really a singular situation? If so, reassure him that it was. In the event that your parents get into trouble again, promise that you will continue to be a loving daughter but won't borrow to your peril. Words alone aren't enough, though. To earn your boyfriend's trust, rebuild your credit rating.

The first step is to know where you stand, so pull your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — for free via AnnualCreditReport.com. Have your darling get his, too. In addition, obtain your FICO score from at least one of the bureaus. One score from a single bureau will cost you about $20 at MyFico.com. You'll need to see where your accounts are now. They may still be with the original creditors, but they could have been sold to collection agencies.

Whatever your score is today, present it to your fiance, declaring, “I'm going to increase it in 12 months.” How do you pull that off? That brings us to step two: Deal with your debts. Because you're in the process of paying, it sounds like they are still with your original lenders. That is fantastic. When the balances are less than 30 percent of your available credit limit and evidence of your on-time payments is consistently recorded on your reports, your score will certainly rise.

As for your credit reports and scores impacting your boyfriend's, that won't happen unless you apply for and obtain jointly held accounts, or if he adds you onto his current credit card as an authorized user. In that case, any future slip-ups on your part would affect his credit. Also, if you do apply for a loan together (say, a mortgage or car loan), your bad credit might hurt both your chances of getting approved.

Rest assured that there is no automatic merging of credit after walking down the aisle, and if you want to keep credit cards totally independent, do so. In fact, I recommend it. I've never been a fan combined plastic, since accounting can become too complicated. In general, each partner ought to have a personal card, as creating an excellent credit history is part of being an adult in this society.

You'll have to decide for yourself if your boyfriend's standards are out of line and if you still want to marry him after he's made marriage conditional on your financial health. But paying down your debt and fixing your credit score will improve your life, whether he's in it or not.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.