Ask the Credit Counsellor – Getting Married With Debt

Q: I am getting married soon. My credit is great, but my husband can’t even get a credit card in his own name due to past credit problems. How will his credit affect mine?

A: The good news is that the credit histories of spouses are not merged. In fact, it is possible to keep your credit history completely separate from your future husband’s, as long as you don’t add each other to your existing accounts or get new credit in both your names.

Be careful about helping your husband rebuild his credit by cosigning new loans with him. By cosigning, you will be equally responsible for those loans or credit cards. While your betrothed may have told you his poor credit history was due to circumstances beyond his control (and that may be true), some people with credit problems don’t learn the skills they need to keep them from repeating their failures.

It sounds like you and your husband have different approaches to handling money. It’s best to sort those issues out before you tie the knot, since money challenges are cited as the number one cause of divorce. Before you walk down the aisle, run – don’t walk – together to a money management course where you can learn how to see eye to eye on this important issue.

Q: Over the past two years I was unemployed and working temporary jobs. I ran up about $20,000 on five credit cards. I am working again full-time and need to lower my interest rates and get on a regular payment schedule. I’ve considered credit counselling, but wonder if I shouldn’t just try to negotiate lower interest rates on my own. Why not?

A: It’s very important for consumers to keep the lines of communication open with their creditors if they are experiencing problems making payments. At the same time, I doubt you’ll be able to negotiate the same terms that a counselling agency can.

There are several reasons why. First, creditors know when someone enters into a counselling program that they are making a serious effort to repay their debt. Consumers in a counselling program, for example, agree not to take on additional debt. Secondly, creditors know they will be treated fairly when a consumer is in a counselling program. Without the counselling agency as the “go between,” consumers might feel pressured to pay one creditor (you know the “squeaky wheel” adage), which could mean other payments slide. Finally, the counselling agency takes on the responsibility of making monthly payments to each participating creditor. That makes it easier for you, since you only have one monthly payment to make to the counselling agency, but it also means the creditor knows they can get a reliable answer from the agency if a payment isn’t received on time. Together, all this means that most creditors feel much more comfortable negotiating with a professional credit counselling agency instead of directly with consumers.

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