Extension: Couples encouraged to check their credit reports together

Knowing your spouse or partner’s credit history is as important as knowing your own. When in a relationship, your partner’s credit can become a source of stress and may affect your ability to secure a home or auto loan. One of the major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, reports that 61 percent of men and 39 percent of women admitted to maintaining a secret financial account. TransUnion, another credit bureau, reports that 38 percent of engaged couples are not aware of their spouse’s credit history. Establishing regular times for couples to check and review their credit reports together is an important part of sharing finances.

Federal law gives everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year. You can request the reports from AnnualCreditReport.com—one each from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are three options for order your free credit report: through the mail, toll free by phone, or at the official website AnnualCreditReport.com. While you can order all three reports at the same time anytime during the year, ordering one free report every four months provides the benefit of assuring that the information is up-to-date and accurate year round.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension’s “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign makes it easier to remember to order a free credit report. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder from UW-Extension three times a year—on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10—on the campaign’s website: fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport. If you haven’t yet requested your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, then mark your calendar to order at least one of your reports on June 6.

When you and your partner order and share your individual credit reports, you might have both shared lines of credit and individual credit accounts in your reports. It’s a common myth that credit reports automatically merge when a couple gets married. Instead, each individual’s credit history continues to appear separately in their credit reports. If one person had a car loan and student loans before they got married, for example, these loans will only show up in that that person’s credit report and not in their new spouse’s credit report.

The only time a credit account shows up in both individual’s reports is when the couple, whether married or not, applies for credit together. Wisconsin is also a community property state, which makes the combining of finances a bit more complicated. In Wisconsin, if a married person opens up a credit card in just their name, that credit card will not appear on their spouse’s credit report. It’s also important to note that their spouse will still be held responsible for paying off that credit card debt even though they didn’t open the credit card personally.

Getting access to reports

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many consumers across the United States also have trouble accessing their credit reports because they cannot match the credit bureau’s detailed identity questions when ordering online. If you do not answer the background questions correctly, you will be denied online access to your report. You must then mail in a written request form with copies of specific documents in order to verify their identity.

Note that the official annual free credit report does not include any of the credit scores offered by credit bureaus. When ordering a free credit report, the credit bureau might also offer consumers additional paid services, including purchasing a credit score or credit monitoring services. These are optional paid services and a purchase is not required to order the free credit report.

In addition to email reminders, the UW-Extension “2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign website fyi.extension. wisc.edu/creditreport, provides information and links for ordering, reading and understanding your free credit reports. You can also find out how to place a free credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports and whether that’s the right decision for you.

It’s important for couples to talk about their financial goals and how to manage their money together. Having the money conversation in a relationship may be hard, and yet if you don’t have the conversation, it could get harder. Planning regular meetings to talk about money can ease some of the stress around joint money decisions and managing credit as a couple.

For more information on credit reports, contact the Extension Washington County Office. Contact Carol Bralich, carol.bralich@wisc.edu, 262-335-4479

or

In Wisconsin contact: Peggy Olive, polive@wisc.edu, 608-262-6766