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​​The Ultimate Guide for Engaged Couples to Talk About Their Debts

Updated: Jan 11

Repairing your credit can feel overwhelming. Opening up to your fiancée about your debts can be even tougher. This guide will simplify the process for you and your fiancée and provide unbiased, trustworthy advice and resources.


Table of Contents


How to Respond if Your Fiancée has a lot of Debt


Collect yourself to respond with love and understanding


It can be tough to unpack the emotions of learning about your fiancée’s debt. Start by not rushing to judgment. This can be particularly difficult if you don’t carry any debt or struggle with the idea of debt. But life isn’t simple.


Perhaps your fiancée didn’t have the guidance to understand the implications of student debt or the same opportunities you may have had to avoid it. Maybe they didn’t live near a community college and were forced to live on campus. Perhaps they didn’t receive any need-based aid, but their parents didn’t pay for all or a significant portion of the cost of college.

Maybe they were laid off after graduating from college before they had a chance to build an emergency fund.

Medical debt is a leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Maybe they’re being weighed down because they can’t afford to pay for a health emergency?

The point is that there could be a heartbreaking story that can come with your partner’s debts. React lovingly because your partner likely feels a certain amount of shame around significant debt.

With that said, there’s a difference between debt burdens deriving from catastrophic emergencies or a less-than-perfect higher education system and using debt to supplement a cush lifestyle.

Assuming you feel comfortable that your partner’s debts indicate bad circumstances and not dangerous financial habits, you can use plenty of strategies to work through it.

Teaming up, pooling your financial resources, and tackling your spouse’s debt together is a reasonable approach. But if this makes you a bit uneasy, you can move forward in other ways.


Transition to Marriage Toolkit


How to Protect Yourself from a Financially Irresponsible Spouse


If you believe there is a chance your future spouse is financially irresponsible but you want to move forward with the marriage, consider a trust but protect approach. Here are a few ways in which you can do so.


Maintain separate credit accounts


Do not add your spouse as an authorized user on your credit cards or be a cosigner for a debt you don't agree with. You can still merge the remainder of your finances if you are comfortable doing that.


At a minimum, this projects your credit score and can better protect yourself from their liabilities.


Monitor your credit report


Be on the lookout on your credit report for account changes you did not initiate. We will share the details of how to do this later in the post.


Have separate bank accounts


There are a number of approaches to managing money together in a marriage. The three most common approaches are to pool all of your money together into joint bank accounts, keep you accounts separate, and a hybrid approach. Maintain separate bank accounts if you're concerned your spouse will be financially irresponsible.


Read How Should Money Be Split in a Marriage? for details to each approach.


Sign a prenuptial agreement


A prenuptial agreement, often called a "prenup," is a legal contract between two individuals before marriage. This agreement outlines how assets and liabilities will be divided between them during a divorce, separation, or death. It can specify what is considered separate property, marital property, and how any joint assets should be divided.


Where to Uncover Debts


Before diving into repair tactics, you must understand your credit report.


Securing Your Credit Report


Everyone is entitled to a free annual credit report from the three main credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.


Acquire yours at www.annualcreditreport.com.

As an FYI, credit bureaus sometimes try to sell extra services when you check your credit report. They might use big warnings to make you think you need to buy more protection. Their designs can make the free choices harder to see.


Deciphering the Credit Report Contents


Your report will contain personal information, credit history, inquiries from lenders, and possibly public records like bankruptcies. For those new to reading credit reports, the AIE Credit Report Interactive is an excellent resource for breaking down the report into understandable language.


Don't assume that what is in your credit report is accurate. As we shared in a past post, a 2021 survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that 34% of Americans found at least one error on their credit report. More about this later in the post.


Strategies to Guard Against Predatory Credit Repair Tactics


The credit repair journey is filled with entities keen to exploit individuals eager for quick fixes. Protecting yourself is paramount.


Beware of False Promises

Overnight Solutions: Real credit repair is methodical. Entities claiming immediate fixes or the ability to erase legitimate debt are misleading.

Shady CPNs: Some organizations might suggest using Credit Privacy Numbers (CPNs) to start a new credit identity. This is not only illegal but could lead to severe legal consequences.

Questionable Fee Structures: Advance fees are a telltale sign of a scam. Legitimate credit repair companies will not demand payment before rendering services


Credit reporting and repair service complaints that the CFPB received and forwarded to companies


Keep an eye out for these deceptive practices


Blanket Disputes: Companies that urge you to dispute everything on your report, even legitimate entries, are a red flag.


New Identities: If a service proposes using an Employer Identification Number instead of your SSN, that's a clear warning sign.


Do your research


Before engaging with any credit repair entity, do your homework. Check their reviews, Better Business Bureau ratings, and any regulatory body sanctions.


Consider Expert Assistance

Seeking help is often beneficial, especially when confronted with the intricacies of credit repair.


Student Loans


We trust Student Loan Helper for folks facing significant student loan debt.

Credit Counseling


  • What It Offers: Counselors provide an objective overview of your financial standing, guiding you on budgeting, debt management, and credit practices.

  • Finding Trusted Counselors: Opt for non-profit entities, especially those affiliated with the NFCC. Local credit unions and community organizations can also be viable options.


Debt Management Plan (DMP)

Debt Management Plan (DMP) Breakdown: In some cases, counselors might suggest a DMP. Here, you make monthly deposits to the counseling organization, which then pays your debts. This can often be at negotiated reduced interest rates or fees.

Details Matter: Before agreeing, get clarity on the DMP's terms, fees, and distribution plan for your payments.

Bankruptcy Counseling: Bankruptcy might be the last resort for some. Before you can file, you'll need to receive counseling from an approved agency. Post-filing, a debtor education course is mandatory to discharge debts.

Ongoing Education: Continually educate yourself by following people and organizations you trust.



Apply Appropriate Credit Repair Strategies


Challenge Inaccuracies


Errors can range from incorrect personal information to your credit accounts or payment history inaccuracies. Identify and list these inaccuracies, as they'll form the crux of your repair strategy.


For each error on your report, draft a dispute letter. Send it to both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the erroneous information. They are obligated to investigate and correct verified mistakes.

Use this step-by-step process if you find an error in your credit report. If it doesn't work, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


Negotiate with Creditors Yourself


Direct dialogue can lead to modified payment plans or settlements. Be candid about your financial situation; you might be surprised by their willingness to help. Here's a quick guide on how you can approach this delicate process.

Understand Your Position: Before discussing, know the exact amount you owe, including interest. Review your finances to determine what you can realistically afford to pay.


Open the lines of communication: It might feel intimidating, but reaching out to your creditor is the first step. Remember, they often prefer to recover some of the debt rather than none.

Be honest and calm: Clearly express your current financial situation. If you've experienced hardships like job loss or medical emergencies, mention them. Your credibility is vital, so avoid making commitments you can't uphold.


Consider proposing a payment plan: Consider offering a reduced lump sum or monthly installment you can manage. Creditors might accept a lower amount if they believe it's the best way to get paid. With that said, understand the implications of payment plans on your credit score.

Get everything in writing: Once you reach an agreement, ensure it's documented. This will help protect you from any future disputes about the terms.


Smart Debt Management

Consider debt consolidation, where multiple debts are combined into a single, more manageable debt with a potentially lower interest rate.

Click here to access the American Institute of CPAs Debt Consolidation Calculator. If you're wondering how debt consolidation can impact your credit score, according to Experian,


"Consolidating your debt can impact your credit score, but as long as you manage your debt responsibly, any negative effects will be temporary. Understanding your options and how they affect your credit score can help you determine the right steps."

Alternatively, strategies such as the snowball, avalanche, or hybrid methods can be effective. Our previous post, How to pay down debts with your spouse, explains each process in detail.


The Basics of Credit and Marriage


Getting married doesn't directly change your credit or spouse's, but both partners' credit health plays a role in shared financial endeavors post-wedding.


 

Related: The average score on our Marriage and Credit Quiz is around a 60%. Can you beat it?

 

What happens to your credit when you get married


  • If one has poor credit, it can impact joint loan applications, even if the other has stellar credit.

  • Changing your surname post-marriage doesn't impact credit, but creditors and the Social Security Administration should be informed.

  • Individual debts before marriage remain separate. However, in community property states, spouses can be equally responsible for debts acquired during marriage.

Dispelling common marriage and credit myths


  • Your credit reports do not merge with your spouse's.

  • Changing your name won't affect my credit reports and credit history.

  • Getting married does not impact your credit score.

  • My poor credit won't impact my spouse's credit reports and credit scores.

    • However, if you apply for a loan together, some mortgage or other lenders may take the lowest middle credit score between both of you.


Undoubtedly, the path of credit repair demands dedication and patience. But with the right guidance, tools, and a proactive approach, you can rebuild your credit and secure your financial future. Remember, every step you take today reshapes your financial narrative for tomorrow.


 

Learn More


Couples who learn more, save more, and spend more on what is important to them.


For engaged and recently married couples who want to manage money and the home as a team.


Self paced online courses for couples designed by national financial therapy and financial planning experts


Winning ideas from experts to manage money and the home as a team. 2023 Plutus Award Finalist: Best Couples or Family Content


🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Apple.

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Spotify.


Winning ideas to manage money and the home as a team delivered to your inbox every two weeks. You'll even receive a few free gifts!


 

Citations


Akin, Jim. “What Happens to Your Credit When You Get Married?” Experian, 27 Jan. 2021, www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/life-events/marriage-and-credit/.

“Ask CFPB.” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 2020. www.consumerfinance.gov


“Consumer Information.” Federal Trade Commission. U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 2020. www.ftc.gov


“Financial Counseling.” National Foundation for Credit Counseling. NFCC, 2020. www.nfcc.org


“Myths vs. Facts: Marriage and Credit.” Equifax®, www.equifax.com/personal/education/life-stages/myths-vs.-facts-marriage-and-credit/. Accessed 15 Aug. 2023.


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