If your spouse has a bad credit history, you undoubtedly want to help them build a better one. Perhaps you want to qualify for a mortgage together, or maybe your spouse’s credit trouble is keeping them from getting a job. Or, if nothing else, you want your spouse to have better credit because you want the best for them.
Here are some things you can do to help your spouse raise their credit score.
Improve Your Credit First
When flight attendants give their safety speech, they always say that you should fix your oxygen mask before assisting others. If you and your spouse both have bad credit, you can rebuild credit at the same time. All the steps given here can work for both you and your spouse.
Set a Household Budget
The foundation for building a good credit score is good money management habits. That starts with having a budget or a plan for spending your money. If you don't already have one, create a budget to plan your spending for the upcoming month based on your income. A budget helps you see whether you have enough money to cover all the household expenses and helps you see whether you need to raise your income or reduce your expenses to make up for spending gaps.
Build an Emergency Fund
Work together to build a household emergency fund that's accessible to both of you. The emergency fund keeps both of you from relying on a credit card or a more expensive loan to pay for unexpected expenses. And, if you or your spouse use a credit card to pay for an unexpected expense, you can use the emergency fund to pay off the balance immediately.
The ideal emergency fund is three to six months of living expenses, but you can start out with a smaller goal of $1,000 and work your way up to higher savings.
Get Educated About Credit
Help your spouse understand credit bureaus, credit reporting, and credit scoring. Explain the relationship between creditors and the credit bureaus, how late payments don't go unnoticed, and how low balances and timely payments help build a better credit score.
Review your credit reports together, but don't scrutinize or berate your spouse for past mistakes. The goal is to identify the negative items to fix and come up with a plan to fix them. Some of the worst types of credit report entries are debt collection accounts, past due balances, tax liens, foreclosure, bankruptcy, or student loan default.
You can get a free copy of your credit reports from all three credit bureaus once each week through AnnualCreditReport.com. Weekly free credit reports are available through December 2022.
Create a Plan to Pay off Debt
Having too much consumer debt can hurt both of your credit scores, but only jointly-held accounts will appear on both of your credit reports. Use your credit reports and other billing statements to create a list of your debts. Then, make a plan to pay down the balances.
Many people find the debt snowball method effective for paying off debt. Using this method, you pay off your debts starting with the one that has the smallest balance. Make lump-sum payments towards your focus debt while paying the minimum on all the others.
Share a Credit Card Account
Use your good credit to help boost your spouse’s credit by making your spouse an authorized user on one of your credit cards. Once you add your spouse as an authorized user, the history for that account will appear on your spouse’s credit report. Make sure it’s an account with a good credit history, or your efforts could hurt instead of help.
Sharing a credit card requires much communication in how you'll use and pay the card. Upfront, have a discussion about purchase limits and payment habits to prevent conflict.
Open a Secured Credit Card
A secured credit card is another option for rebuilding bad credit history. This type of credit card is easier to get approved for because you make a security deposit against the credit limit. Review your household budget, and figure out how you and your spouse can come up with a good security deposit. Some secured credit cards accept a security deposit as low as $200.
Once your spouse has a credit card, whether alone or with you, it’s important that they exercise good credit habits. That means charging only a portion of the credit limit and paying the balance in full and on time each month. Remind your spouse to pay the balance each month. Or better, pay your bills together each month.