Dear Liz: The day before my son got married, he proudly had a long-term 800-plus FICO credit score. The day after he got married, his FICO score became 600. It seems his new wife had many outstanding major debts incurred before the marriage. They live in a non-community-property state. How can he rebuild his credit either with or without a divorce?
Answer: Unless your son filed for bankruptcy the day after his wedding, the scenario you describe is pretty much impossible.
Our credit reports don’t get merged or combined when we marry. And it’s highly unlikely that any of the debts his wife incurred before marriage would be added to his credit reports unless he agreed to be added as a joint account holder or an authorized user.
As a practical matter, of course, he’ll want to help his new wife address these debts, since they’ll affect the couple’s life together.
But he’s not legally responsible for them. Because she incurred these bills before the wedding, they’re her separate responsibility in every state — community-property states included.
An appointment with a marriage counselor might be in order if she actively concealed these debts from him. But they needn’t contact divorce attorneys to fix this problem.
They should probably make two more appointments, however: one with a legitimate credit counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (www.nfcc.org) and another with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. The counselor and the attorney together will provide a complete picture of her options.
By the way, just as there’s no such thing as a combined credit report, there’s also no such thing as a “long-term” credit score. Each score is a snapshot of your credit situation and changes as the underlying information in your credit reports changes — which is basically all the time.