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What to do when only one spouse has great credit

minute read

    by Farnoosh Torabi

    Opposites attract—especially when it comes to money. And that, of course, can cause conflict. Widely disparate credit scores in particular can saddle a union with stress.

    Take Carrie Smith and Ryan Nicholson. When the couple tied the knot two years ago, there was a huge chasm between their credit scores: Smith, founder of the financial blog, had a solid score perched above 700; Nicholson, a personal chef, had no credit score at all. He had never borrowed money or used a credit card, so he had no personal credit history.

    "[Before we got married] we'd have conversations about money, financial goals, and career aspirations," says Smith. "But we never touched on the logistics of those—and how a credit score would affect [our goals]."

    Indeed, having just one good credit score in the relationship proved challenging for Smith and Nicholson when it came to finding a place to live. When the couple began their apartment hunt, landlords ran credit checks. "We had to apply under my name only," says Smith, who is also the breadwinner in the marriage. She says being the sole person with a positive credit profile has been somewhat stressful. "This definitely puts more responsibility on me," she says. "It's tough."

    How to help your spouse build credit

    With bigger goals on the near horizon—including moving out of state and finding a new place to live—Smith and Nicholson are taking steps to help Nicholson build credit. For instance, she has added him as an authorized user to her credit card, which gradually (and with good behavior) may help him establish a positive credit history and improve his score. Not all card issuers report the history of an authorized user to credit bureaus, so it's important to know whether yours does. But if they do, assuming the primary cardholder makes timely payments and doesn't carry a tall balance, everyone's credit can benefit over time.

    It's also important to be patient and keep in mind that time heals. If your partner's credit score hasn't improved dramatically within the first few months, it may not be his or her fault. For one thing, the length of your credit history determines 10 percent of your score. So, if your partner just started establishing credit, the more time passes, the better it will be for his or her score. In addition, certain bad incidences, like late payments, take time to fall off credit reports. The good news: With each passing year, the impact of such indiscretions diminishes.

    By recently focusing on building a credit score, Nicholson has gone from having no score to having one in the mid-500s that's gradually improving.

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