To celebrate the wedding season, the Fool has a gift for you: our advice on how to mix love and money into a successful marriage. Take a look at all of our marriage and money articles.
At least you had a few clues, if you hadn't already figured it out. She got those odd phone calls ... and, blushing, hung up too abruptly for it to have been "just a wrong number." The tough times after his employer went out of business, back before he met you, that he glossed over with funny stories about ramen noodle parties and the "crazy" landlord. The fancy clothes that seemed to come from nowhere ... until they stopped coming. The old clunker car that you kept urging her to replace, but she never did, because "financing is such a pain." The day you went back to his place and the power had mysteriously been shut off because the electric company made a "mistake." And then, after you got engaged, you had The Talk, and in a tearful rush it all came out.
Yep, you should have known: Your sweetie has bad credit.
You, on the other hand, are a devoted Fool. You've spent years getting your financial house in order. You bought your nice car gently used, your investment portfolio is rocking, and you never ever carry a balance on your low-interest credit card. Your FICO score is sky-high, and any bank would be thrilled to have your business.
But the love of your life? Not so much. What to do?
There's bad credit ... and there's bad credit
To start with, don't panic. Contrary to what many people think, marrying someone with a poor credit history doesn't automatically ruin your good standing. Joining finances -- getting a joint checking account, shared credit cards, or a mortgage -- can be problematic, though, especially if your lawfully wedded's ongoing financial conduct continues to generate new problems.
And there's the big question: Are the credit problems the result of something in the past, like a medical crisis or a long period of unemployment, or the result of ongoing bad habits? If it's the former, the prescription is simple: Plan to keep finances separate while you work together to fix the bad credit record. Fellow Fool Mary Dalrymple spelled out the steps in detail a few months back; read her excellent article to get the full scoop.
Tackling the hard questions
If it's the latter, it's a tougher problem. If your betrothed is motivated to get his financial house in order -- and if he really 'fessed up, then there's a good chance that he is -- then you can definitely help. Use the resources here at the Fool. (You're already here. Put us to work!) Get a copy of his credit report and his other financial records, and walk through the whole picture together. Don't be harsh or overly judgmental -- odds are, he feels pretty badly about this already. Do help him see where the problems are, how he might correct things, and the effect that improving his financial habits will have on his (and your) future. Send him to Fool's School, or get him a good book on personal finance basics, or both.
Helping him get acquainted with the concepts behind good financial habits will give you a shared language to talk about finances going forward. At the same time, be clear about reality and your expectations: merging finances and making joint purchases just isn't in your best interest until his financial house is in order. With luck, he'll come to share your financial outlook, and you can look forward to many happy years of browsing the Fool together and debating whether Valero Energy (NYSE: VLO ) is going to do better than Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) over the family dinner table.
If he's not motivated to clean up his act, or you're not sure you trust him to clean up his act, then I'm afraid that you've got problems beyond what the Fool can help you with. At a minimum, you'll have to take charge of the family finances going forward if you want to protect your good financial standing -- and get the bills paid on time.
Looking for common-sense tips that will help you make the most of your newly shared finances? Check out theMotley Fool Green Light newsletter, where Fools Dayana Yochim and Shannon Zimmerman offer up hundreds of dollars of money-saving tips every month. Help yourself to their best ideas free for 30 days.
Fool contributor John Rosevear had good credit when he got married -- and his spouse had great credit, which worked out nicely for all concerned. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has a FICO score measured in the hundreds of millions, but promises to use that power only for good.