Even tho he aint got money, I'm still in love with him, honey.
July 26, 2011 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Gettin' hitched to a great guy (with some non-great credit). What do we need to do to protect my (pretty ok) credit?

About me: I've got about 2-3k in debt that I am currently paying off. I have a small amount of savings, and am contributing the max to my retirement (as matched by my work). Am well employed and have good credit. We are both in CA, and are in our late 20s-30s.

About him: He's got about 3-4k that he ran up years ago that he's not been paying on (really under employed for the past few years). We recently pulled his credit when we had trouble getting a rental. Looks like his Dad has somehow linked up some cards with his name, and it appears that he's 25k under. It appears that his Dad is paying on those cards. This was news to my Fiance, and obviously is something that they are going to hash out.

How do I best protect myself before we make it official in December? I'm aware of his financial standings, and I know what I'm marrying into. Were he to incur more irresponsible debt in our marriage, he's well aware that would be a dealbreaker for us. He's aware of his financial responsibilities in our home life, and for all the years with me, has made and exceeded them. I'm confident that he's a good mate for me, despite the credit issue (just adding these points in as an FYI and to limit the well-intentioned "be aware who you are marrying" replies ;) ).

My concern right now is limiting the debt damage to me, that's been incurred pre-me. Am more than willing to speak to a professional about this, but not really sure where to start and what I need to ask for. (if there are any previous askmifi's about this, my apologies - was not able to find any except for a IRS question)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get a civil union for now, and get married after his financial problems are better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:44 AM on July 26, 2011

Make sure he makes paying off his debt a priority. Make sure that this issue is resolved, or well on its way to being resolved, before you marry him. Don't make the mistake of placing your love for him before the legal exposure you gain by marrying him.
posted by dfriedman at 6:47 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have him do whatever is necessary to get out from under the debt he didn't know about and didn't consent to with his dad. When that doesn't work (it won't), talk to him about things like civil lawsuits against his father and reporting the fraud to the police and bank. Will he do that? Probably not. Once you have a much clearer picture of things, such as whether or not your guy was telling the truth about having no knowledge of the debt, think about what you may or may not be exposing yourself to with marrying into a crazy family that commits credit fraud on each other and go from there.

It sounds like your guy has roughly the same credit card debt as you, so without the external factor of crazy illegal actions from his pater familias and no jobness, he's just as responsible as you! Which is good, isn't it?

If you do get married, perhaps you would benefit from a prenup to protect your assets. That's what TV tells me couples do when there is a disparity of assets, and television hasn't steered me wrong before. Ever. I assume that sort of thing is pretty standard, and would be relatively cheap for a lawyer to whip up, after a meeting or two.
posted by jsturgill at 7:08 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

At bare minimum for the debt he's now sharing with his dad, he needs to find out if he is an authorized user on the accounts or a co-borrower. The answer will let you know what his legal obligations are and what he needs to do to fix.

If he's an authorized user, the debt will show up on his credit report but he's not legally responsible for it (although debt collectors may try to tell him otherwise and might pressure him to pay if his father defaults). He can contact the creditor and ask to be removed as an authorized user. He should also put a note on his credit report saying that he has done so.

If he's a co-borrower on the debt but wasn't aware, that's likely fraud and disentangling himself from it will probably require legal help. You can contact your local Consumer Credit Counseling Service for assistance. CCCS is a national network of nonprofit agencies that help with financial issues.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:31 AM on July 26, 2011

I agree with jsturgill that the big red flag is your fiancé's father. You are marrying into a family where your future in-law committed serious fraud against your future husband. That sounds like a potential nightmare. I would do everything possible to get this cleared up and put away before the marriage takes place.
posted by alms at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Were he to incur more irresponsible debt in our marriage, he's well aware that would be a dealbreaker for us.

I don't know if I've ever heard anyone say this before! We all have different things that are important to us in a marriage. (Maybe you can stick something about that in, right after "in sickness and in health"?) (Mostly, sort of kidding? But the way you've expressed this really red-flags something about the marriage preparations for me.... I think in part because one man's irresponsible is another man's perfectly reasonable.)

Anyway! It's hard to judge what the liabilities are to you without knowing his credit scores. (And some of the liabilities are just unfairness: like, if you're renters, oh goodie, you get to be the leaseholder, which is at least psychically onerous.) In part, carrying (and paying! The paying really helps!) a small amount of debt like this (yes, that amount is small) is good for his credit score. (Not paying, of course, is rather detrimental.)

Traditionally upon marriage, although everyone differs, earnings become to some or to a complete extent enmeshed. So it's possible that the plural "your" money is used to pay down "his" debt. (After extricating himself from this terrible situation with his father.)

And despite his underemployment, he needs to be paying down some of this tiny debt. It doesn't make sense that he's not.

What you want to ask your accountant is: "Tell me about the liabilities to my credit score, if any, upon marriage! Here are our financial lives. Secondarily, what are ways we can each improve our credit scores!" Sometimes the answer to that last one will surprise you. (Spoiler: because "they" want you to always be in debt, which, ick!)

Not an accountant, not a marriage advisor, etc etc etc.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:57 AM on July 26, 2011

I am this guy. Support him, but most of all help him learn to be responsible, handle money wisely, and pay off his debt. Do not open any joint accounts or give him any credit cards until his debt is paid off and he is able to get his own. He may be the kindest, greatest guy (I like to think I am most of the time), but being desparate for money can make some people do very irresonsible things without thinking about the consequences.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:17 AM on July 26, 2011

As per tr33hggr above - I was this guy. Entered my relationship with £25k+ of debt, and was fortunate to have a very understanding girlfriend (now wife).

I created a payment plan, minimised my outgoings, disassociated my debt from hers (it was registered at my parents old address, and using mail redirection, I kept it there), and concentrated on paying it off before I switched any addresses to our shared house or exposed her to any of my debt history. The only potential issue here is his father, but as I am not an american I have no idea how you minimise your exposure should your partners relationship with his father deteriorates as a result of their shared debt.

I'm now paid off and completely debt free, married, and now concentrating on paying down my wifes' debt (which I knew about before we married, and is trivial compared to what I had). Certainly my wifes' calm response to my awful debt situation is the thing that got us through it. good luck!
posted by jjleonard at 9:00 AM on July 26, 2011

You two need a financial advisor.. because I think that's really what you're asking for. That's my first suggestion, my other suggestions are:
  • Do not open any new credit under both your names.
  • Make sure your husband understands he is not to share your personal information with his family. (should be a given)
  • Keep your separate bank accounts. Open a new checking account in both your names, determine a price or percentage of both of your income to go into this new account. Pay off the mortgage, household bills, repair costs, and any joint-credit-cards through this account only.

posted by royalsong at 9:02 AM on July 26, 2011

Did people read the ops question?

Her fiancé doesn't have financial problems. He's accumulated $3K-4K of debt. That's nothing to be concerned about.

This isn't a debt problem and its not a financial problem, it's a criminal problem. The fiancé's father is a criminal, and he is perpetrating crimes on his own family. When the wedding takes place, the op will be a member of the family.

The fiancé doesn't need financial counseling or debt management classes, he needs an attorney who specializes in identity theft. There aren't enough details provided to fully understand what the father-in-law-to-be did and what he might do in the future. It is possible that in some way he could argue this was no big deal. But it is just as likely that it is a huge deal and an indicator of a problem that will recur again and again.

To repeat, this isn't a financial management problem, it is identity theft. Beyond getting help for your husband, you might want to talk to an attorney yourself to get advice on how, when, and even whether to proceed with the marriage in these circumstances.
posted by alms at 10:31 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

As alms mentioned above, you really do need to consult with an attorney to investigate steps that need to be taken to separate the 25k in debt from your husband-to-be. If he really didn't know about this (sorry, been in this place myself and sometimes it's not always that clear cut...) then you would want to proceed with taking action on it. It's going to weigh him down and sink him for a long, long time, and makes car loans / rentals / mortgage / etc very, very hard.

So yeah, you're taking some good steps, but the problem isn't his minor amount of personal debt, it's the father thing.

Also: if he's got 4k of CC debt that hasn't been paid off in years, and it's in collections, be careful how you go about paying it off - you don't want to go through the hassle of paying it off only to have it reflect negatively for 10 more years as a partial pay-off. (and remember that you CAN settle that debt for pennies on the dollar, but insist on "payment in full" being reported to the credit agencies.) maybe this isn't your situation, but regardless make sure you take careful steps to keep the credit report clean or cleaner, and don't shoot yourself in the foot. (I'd second the recommendation of a good attorney for this, they do wonders when they don't suck.)

good luck!
posted by EricGjerde at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2011

Are you sure the dad's debt is actually tied to him and not just a mistake?

My husband and his father share a first initial (not name), a middle name, and a last name. His dad's stuff turns up on his credit report all the damn time, and we just contact the reporting agency, confirm that my husband's SSN is not actually on any of the accounts, and they take it off.

I would not attribute to malice what may be caused by ineptitude.
posted by anastasiav at 12:29 PM on July 26, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
We're trying to sort out the confusion and find out if there was malice involved, or like some have mentioned, a screw up by the crediting agency types. What sort of professional should we speak to? An accountant? A financial advisor? An attorney? Would love some keywords (or recommendations) to search for - we will be in the Los Angeles area. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:42 PM on July 26, 2011

I think you should do as much leg work and investigating as possible on your own before you start paying people like accountants and lawyers. Two forums that are friendly and helpful to new members like you with lots of questions are the Credit Boards Forum and the FatWallet Finance Forums. Both of those places have a lot of really sharp members who can basically walk you through everything you need to do to protect your assets and (hopefully) disentangle your husband from the mess his father has created. I think Fatwallet even has a FAQ about this subject.

If I recall correctly, the credit reporting agencies will not give a toss about who has better credit once you two are married; they'll basically cram all of your info together and his credit score will drag yours down too. This can negatively affect you when/if you want to buy a house, a car, or even open a new credit card, so proceed with caution. Get all your ducks in a row before you get married.

Here are a few threads to get you started (some keywords you may want to try are "fiance" + "debt" + "getting married" + "credit"):

How Will My Fiance's Debt Affect Me.

Don't Say i Do To Bad Credit.

Getting and Keeping a High Credit Score.

Good luck to you both. I hope everything works out.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:30 PM on July 26, 2011

It's possible that the father simply has the son as an authorized user on his cards, as mentioned by Sweetie Darling. In fact in most families I'd hope that's the more likely scenario! So if it turns out to be the case, this link from Experian talks about having a credit line removed from the credit report of an authorized user. However if he's not just an authorized user, I would say an attorney is probably the right place to start, maybe one with experience in identity theft? Good luck!
posted by slicesoftree at 8:25 AM on July 27, 2011

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