Editorial Policy

Why are your wife's card offers better than yours?

Erica Sandberg

March 7, 2014

QHi Erica,

Why does my wife get much better credit card offers by mail than I do? She doesn't really work, and I do. She got an Amex Platinum offer with 100,000 bonus points. They'll only give me 40,000 bonus points. How does that work?

ADear Kevin,

The short answer: Your wife probably has a better credit rating than you. The long (and more important) answer concerns the way each of you have managed your individual financial affairs.

There is no such thing as merged credit reports, even when you're married. Her report is hers and your report is yours. So, unless the two of you have always had exactly the same accounts and have always used them in precisely the same way, you will have different credit scores.

Such scores take all the financial information from a credit report and put it into a mathematical model. What goes into these complicated algorithms? A lot, but basically the date an account was opened, the credit limit, your current balance and a detailed payment pattern. Some information is weighted more heavily than others. Payment history and the amount you owe in relation to the amount you can borrow are  most significant. The length of credit history, types of credit in use and pursuit of new credit are much less so. Recent activity matters more than what happened long ago, too.Ask Erica

For these reasons, your wife may be offered premium products simply because she's been using credit assertively lately, but always pays her bills on time and keeps her balances to well under 30 percent of her credit limit. And perhaps you haven't charged much lately. Or, conversely, you charged too much and are carrying over an abundance of debt.

Another possibility for lower scores: other liabilities on your report, such as collection accounts or monetary judgments. Some may even be mistakes. Compare your credit files as a couple. While you're at it, pull your FICO scores, too, to identify the actual point difference. If you do spot errors on yours that are harming your scores, dispute them so your reports are fairly assessed.

Now, do know that the letters she gets are generated from lenders that are just poking around her credit profile. They haven't looked into her employment status yet. If she were to actually apply for the cards, she may not qualify. These are promotional offers, and though credit rating is a factor, so is income. Unless she lists “household income” that includes your earnings, she could very well be turned down. Even with a combined income, it can be tough to qualify for extra-special cards. Their standards can be dauntingly high.

In the end, I urge you not to enter into a credit competition with your spouse or anyone else. Be happy that she has a good credit rating — after all, it could help the two of you finance a car or house at a preferable rate. Or she may get a credit account such as the one you described, and you can take a nice vacation together, partially paid for with the credit issuer's rewards program. Enjoy.

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