Why Your Spouse's Credit Score is Different

A couple sits with an oversize credit card
••• © Stephen Swintek / Creative RF / Getty

If you have joint financial accounts and credit cards with your spouse, you may expect that your credit scores will be the same, but that isn't necessarily the case. More often than not, your credit score will be different from your spouse's. It may even be higher than your spouse's. It's not an error with the credit scoring; it's perfectly normal.

What Happens to Credit Scores When You Get Married

Though you've joined together in holy matrimony, the two of you have joined houses, and you have the same last name, you still maintain separate credit files. Your credit history is tied to your individual identity – you continue to use your name, birthday, and social security number to access your credit history. All the credit accounts had separately – before and after you were married – are still part of your individual credit history and influence only your credit score. 

Even joint accounts will affect your credit scores differently because the credit scoring calculations take into account all the information on your credit report, not just the one account.

If the two of you pull and compare your credit reports, you'll probably see that your reports are very different. Those differences are the reason that your credit scores are different. Below are a few reasons that one spouse's credit score may be higher than the other.

Your Spouse May Have a Better Payment History

Payment history is the most important factor that influences your credit score. If you have a history of paying late, while your spouse has always paid on time, your spouse will have a better credit score than you. Serious blemishes like repossession, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or loan default can also negatively affect one spouse's credit score.

Your Spouse Has Less Debt Than You

The amount of debt you carry is the second biggest factor that goes into your credit score. If you tend to carry big balances on your credit cards – the ones in your name – while your spouse pays their credit card in full each month, you'll see a difference in credit scores. High loan balances can also negatively affect your credit score.

Your Spouse May Have Had Credit Longer Than You

This may be the case if your spouse is older than you or your spouse started using credit before you. The more experience you have with credit, the better your credit score will be, especially if you have a positive credit history. Your spouse can make you an authorized user on one of their oldest accounts to improve your credit age. Note that some credit scoring calculations may not include authorized user accounts.

The Big Loans Are In Your Spouse's Name

Having a history with various types of accounts helps your credit account, especially if you handle those accounts well. It shows that you can responsibly handle different kinds of debt. So, if you have a mix of credit cards and major loans, like a mortgage or auto loan, your credit score would be higher. But, if these loans are in your spouse's name only, and if they have a positive payment history, your spouse could have a higher credit score than you.

You Have More Recent Applications

Applying for new accounts can cause a temporary drop in your credit score. First, whenever you make a new application, there's an inquiry into your credit history which can cost a few credit score points. Then, actually opening a new account lowers your average credit age slightly. If your spouse is content with their current credit card but you're rate shopping or looking for the latest deals, your credit score could be a little lower.

What Happens When You Apply for Credit Together

When you're applying for credit together, lenders may choose to use the higher or lower of your credit scores, or sometimes the average of your two credit scores. Ask upfront so you know the best way to apply to improve your chances of getting approved and getting the best interest rate. Be aware that you can only use both spouses' income for the application if both spouses are applying together. For that reason, you want your credit score to be in the best shape possible.

The spouse with the lower score can raise their credit score by catching up on past due bills, disputing errors, and paying down balances. Start working on your credit long before you make a joint application for a loan. That way you have time to get your credit score up so you can qualify for better terms.