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Before the Wedding and Honeymoon--It's Time to Discuss Your Credit Image

I" to "We”
Marriage shifts the focus from “I” to “We” in many ways.  One of the most significant areas for couples to understand is the impact their marriage will have on their credit image.
Up to this point, you may have been managing your finances separately.  With your marriage coming up, the credit “talk” should happen sooner rather than later.  It has been studied, quoted and written about for years how important communication about finances is to a successful marriage.  Many newlyweds hit the proverbial brick wall once all the dust settles after the wedding and honeymoon.  Credit education prior to marriage will help prevent unpleasant surprises.
The Credit Crunch
With the recent economy leaning towards tighter credit, more emphasis will be placed on credit scores and your credit image.  Understanding credit is more important than ever.  Your credit image is a snapshot (like a photograph) of your credit worthiness at a fixed moment in time.  A credit image is how you look to others who are making decisions about you.  This image determines what interest rates you are offered, and affects many other decisions made by lenders, landlords, employers and insurance brokers.
Whether this is your first marriage or not, you probably have some sort of credit profile with all three credit reporting agencies.  And knowing how to build a strong credit profile, score and image will give you a financial edge in your future together as husband and wife.  If you set aside some time to openly discuss this issue as a couple, it will save you many future misunderstandings.  You can also begin working as “We” by deciding how to share the tasks involved in building an enhanced credit image.
Find Out Where You Stand
First and foremost, go to www.annualcreditreports.com and retrieve your free credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  There is no cost to pull your reports from this site once a year.  Once you have all three reports (total of six for a couple), comb all the information on these profiles to make sure the information reported is true and correct.  70% of all reports have some inaccuracy in them.  If there are any inconsistencies or inaccurate information being reported, this is the time to dispute it.
You may also want to purchase your credit score.  Currently, the FICO score is the most widely used score; however, it makes the most sense to do your research first to know where you both stand and whether corrections need to be made in your credit reports.
Good Score/Bad Score
Maybe one of the “I’s” in this relationship has had some bumps in the road regarding their credit profile and the other “I” may have better credit standing.  One suggestion is that you add your spouse (once married) to one of your credit cards as an authorized or joint user.  If you do this, make sure the credit card company reports this credit history to each of your social security numbers.  Over time, the spouse with non-existent or poor credit can establish or re-establish a good standing credit profile.  Since the most recent 18-24 months of history weighs heavily on credit risk considerations, it won’t take long to begin to see improvements in the lower score.
There’s Strength in Numbers
Prior to marriage, you probably have operated as “I’s” in your credit lines, payment history, and credit scores.  If you have good standing credit lines, continue to maintain them separately.  Over time, you will most likely make a major purchase like a home or automobile that may require you to go into a contract jointly.  At this point, each of your credit scores will affect your joint credit and two high scores are definitely better than one.
A Final Thought
Another topic to consider is name change.  If you are deciding to change your name, remember to start with the Social Security Office and then the DMV.  Next, you may consider reporting your name change to your creditors.  This will not obligate your spouse for any contracts you entered into previous to the marriage, as long as neither one of you entered into the contract as “We” before marriage.
There are many changes when two “I’s” become “We.”  Start now to practice working together so that these changes work for, rather than against, your marriage and long-term future.
© October 2008 reprinted 2012

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