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If you marry someone with debt, does it become yours?

(Last Updated: 24/04/2024)
10 min read
Key Takeaways
  • You are not responsible for your partner’s debt if you have not co-signed the paperwork.
  • Top Tip: Talk to your family members or friends who are married/living with a partner to gauge how they split bills and pay off debts.
  • Personal loans cannot be transferred to another person.
  • Paying rent and household bills does not create a financial link between your and your partner’s credit accounts.

If you’ve just found out your partner has debts, you might be worried about whether you are next in line to cover the cost, especially if you are getting married.

Normally, a person is only accountable for their debts incurred. If your name is not on the credit agreement, or the contract, and you don’t act as a guarantor, then you cannot be chased for payment in most situations.

However, a creditor could pursue both parties if you jointly applied for credit with a partner or co-signed the paperwork which makes both you and your partner equally responsible for these financial obligations.

Debt and marriage aren’t usually talked about together often, but if you're about to get married to someone, it doesn’t mean you will inherit their debts.

Am I responsible for my husband or wife’s debt?

If you don’t have joint finances, like a mortgage or a joint bank account, under common law you won’t be made liable for your spouse’s debt.

Both spouses will be equally responsible for debts incurred during the marriage, including those from joint loans or credit card debt.

That still applies even if you change your surname once married; it will be updated on credit reports, but you won’t be legally bound to pay any credit agreements in your partner’s name.

Any debt each party had before marriage remains separate unless the spouse is added as a co-signer.

Bills such as council tax are separate because even if your name isn’t on a council tax agreement, you can be chased for payment if you are over the age of 18 and lived in the property when the debt occurred.

Moving in with a partner?

Many people’s lives and main concerns change when they move in with someone and potentially marry them. You must consider someone else’s living expenses and how they affect household bills, which can be a tough task.

Before moving in, have an honest discussion with your partner about prioritising bills and living costs:

  • Will one person cover more of the overall costs?
  • Will you set up a joint bank account or pay things individually?
  • Will you pay your partner ‘housekeeping’ money, or vice versa, if one of you stays at home?

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What you should do

Budgeting with your partner can help you recognise where your money goes every month, and it provides valuable insight into your partner’s finances.

Talk to family and/or friends who are either getting married or living together with a partner and ask how they split the household bills.

Getting married? What wedding costs could you incur?

Allow yourself plenty of time to save for the numerous costs involved, sit down with your partner and work out what you can afford to spend.

As time passes, you will find out more about how costly things such as dinner, outfits, and entertainment can cost. Make sure you both frequently examine these expenditures to ensure you can realistically afford them.

If you or your partner are currently on a debt solution, you likely won’t be able to take credit out to pay for the wedding/civil partnership.

Credit reports and credit scores

Your spouse’s credit history, including any debt, will not merge with, damage, change, or wipe out your credit score upon marriage.

If you have a perfect credit history, it won’t automatically be affected by marrying someone with a poor rating.

If you decide to take on your partner’s debt (mortgage transfer, loan repayments), then this can affect your credit rating and any personal debts.

Being responsible for a spouse's debts depends on various factors, including financial laws and whether the debt is joint, highlighting the importance of understanding the legal and financial implications of shared debts in marriage.

Protect yourself from your partner's debts

You can potentially protect yourself from a spouse's debt by signing a prenuptial agreement before you get married. In the event of a divorce, this would ensure that each person's debts are their own in official documentation.

If you are already married, a postnuptial agreement might be the best course of action. However, it is always recommended to speak with a financial advisor beforehand.

What are joint finances?

Where you’ve applied for a credit account with somebody else, such as:

  • A bank account
  • Loan(s)
  • A mortgage

Once you have applied for shared credit with someone, you become financially connected on your credit report. You will both still have your reports, but they are now associated with one another.

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The benefits and consequences

This can benefit married couples with a good credit history, but if either one of you has debts or skipped credit payments then it can affect the other’s financial assets (potentially through repossession due to non-payments) and future applications.

The financial link between your report and your partner’s report does not affect your overall credit score. Having a poorly managed joint credit account, though, could cause both your credit scores to drop.

Applying for a joint account or adding your partner’s name to your existing accounts means that you will both be liable for payments on the joint debts.

Therefore, if one person for whatever reason cannot pay, the other partner will be responsible for the total debt.

Paying rent together does not create a financial link on your credit report. Even if you agree to act as a guarantor for your partner’s debt, it doesn’t normally create an association on your credit report. However, you will be liable for payments if your partner does not pay.

Registering debt on a joint mortgage

You can only get a secured loan on a joint mortgage if both parties agree to it, and the loan must also be a joint loan. The home will be used as collateral and both partners are liable for payments, meaning that if one person can't or won't contribute to pay the debt, the other will be liable.

If the other homeowner won't give their permission or consent for a secured loan, one party can consider getting an unsecured personal loan. However, this loan will not be attached to the property, and the other spouse will not be liable to make payments should the loanee be unable to.

The above applies whether the property is owned by joint tenants or tenants in common.

Can we apply for a joint credit card?

In the UK, you are unable to apply for a joint credit card account. You can share a credit card with up to three other people, but it will need to be in one person's name and the others added as additional cardholders.

Only the main cardholder is responsible for any debt incurred on this credit card account, so the additional holders can spend but the debt is legally not theirs.

Adding someone to a credit card means you're permitting them to spend up to your credit limit. This could mean that they max out the card and leave you with the bill to pay, which can then lead to additional charges and expenses if you're unable to clear the debt in full.

There are some benefits to having an additional cardholder:

  • Access to better and cheaper credit, should one of you have poorer credit. Only one person needs to be approved for the card, so if one person has better acceptance odds then they can apply.
  • Both people's expenditures are channelled into one card, which means you can max out any cashback or rewards offered by the credit company.

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If your spouse or partner runs up debts on a joint account which they can’t or won’t repay, then you are equally responsible for payments.

This can be difficult to take responsibility for, but working to reduce the joint debt will benefit your credit report.

The following options are available to you if you do not have the means to pay the debt(s):

  • A Debt Management Plan (DMP) is an agreement made between you and your creditors if you are not capable of paying instalments on time.
  • An Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) is a binding agreement between you and lenders to pay back parts of the debt over a period.
  • Bankruptcy, usually a last resort, is a legal status for people unable to pay back the money they owe.

Book a free mortgage consultation with us today. We can help, even if your spouse is in debt.

Access to the whole of the market - 100% impartial advice - For married couples.

Can you transfer debt to another person?

There aren't many examples where you can transfer debt to another person, generally dependent on the form of debt:

  • Credit cards: Some providers may allow balance transfers from one person to another, but the request must come from the person taking on the debt.
  • Personal loans: Lenders won’t permit individual loans to be moved into another person’s name.
  • Mortgages: A mortgage can only be transferred under specific instances, but this will be described in your original mortgage contract.

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Taking on a spouse's debt

Taking on someone else’s credit card debt is understandably risky. Providers might limit who you can transfer a balance to. The person might have to be a partner, family member, or close friend.

Only make a credit card debt transfer if:

  • Both parties can trust that repayments will be made.
  • The person taking on the debt is happy to make the transfer.
  • You are prepared to potentially pay a small transfer balance fee (typically between 1% and 4% of the amount being transferred).
Frequently Asked Questions
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