Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are You Responsible For Your Husband Or Wife's Debt?

First 4 digits of a credit cardImage via Wikipedia
In short the answer is yes and no. Most people before marriage have some kind of debt be it credit card or student loans. This debt acquired before marriage is not the responsibility of the other spouse. It's debt you take on jointly is your responsibility. 
There are ways you can take on the responsibility of pre-marriage debt. On credit cards you can become a joint account holder. On the good side you get all the benefits of your spouses good credit history. On down side whatever debts they have are now your legal responsibility, too. 
What if your spouse takes on debt, be it mortgage or credit card, after your married. Is the other spouse responsible? The bad news is yes. What ever you do when your married reflects on the other spouse. 
What happens to the individual debts your spouse has upon their death? Joint debt is the responsibility of the surviving spouse. The individual debt most be paid off by the estate left by the spouse. If the late spouse owns anything it must be sold to pay off the debts outstanding. Anything left over goes to the surviving spouse or whoever the the will indicates. Of course it's best to consult a lawyer in the state you reside in to do this process legally. 
If your spouse does have previous debt before marriage, morally it becomes yours. If you want to marry the person, you take the good with the bad. Their debt is now your debt. To build a strong marriage you help each other in many ways, why not with the debt. Cleaning up the debt will only strengthen the financial foundation of the marriage. When it's paid off you have more money to put towards both your futures. 


  1. I would always assume the answer to this question is yes. Should you run credit checks on potential spouses?

  2. Dave,
    This is a tricky discussion; one you have handled well. The sticky part is when one spouse takes on debt in his/her name only. I realize that the other spouse has an ethical responsibility for the debt, but does the creditor have a legal right to pursue the spouse who didn't sign for the debt?


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