Will your partner’s debts affect you?

Written by Chelsea Potter on 27 June 2016

One of the most common concerns our customers express is whether their debts will affect their partner. With many myths associated with marriage and debt we thought we’d put together a blog post explaining everything you need to know about how your partners debt will affect you.

Marriage and debt

It is commonly believed that when you get married, your credit record will link up with your spouse’s creating a joint file. This is not actually the case. Only joint credit will link you and your spouse together so marriage alone is not enough to impact your credit rating.

Another common myth associated with marriage is that once a partner changes their last name, their credit history is deleted and their file starts again. This is false – your credit history will remain the same, the only difference to your file will be your new name which will have been added as an alias. If you have recently got married you will have to inform your creditors of this name change in order for it to appear on your file. Only once creditors have updated their information will your credit record change to reflect this.

Joint debts

Whilst marriage is not enough to link you and your partner’s credit files, joint credit applications will make an association between you and your partner. Whether you open up a joint account, apply for a joint credit card or get added to an account with your partner, all of these scenarios will join you and your partner together. While this can be great for couples who have a solid financial history, if you or your partner has a background of defaults it can affect the other’s file.

Even if your joint accounts are up to date and you have no current issue with debts, when you establish a joint account your partner becomes a financial associate and will be named as such on your file. Creditors may choose to look up your partner and their history could affect any future credit applications.

Should you or your partner have a wobbly credit history it might be best for you both to keep your finances separate and work on rebuilding the credit file in need. You can find our tips on credit repair here.

Secret financial lives

Despite the effect that your partner’s debt can have on your own ability to access loans or services, a surprisingly high number of people fail to discuss their debts with their loved ones. When we conducted research last year into mental health and money problems, we discovered 80% of people wouldn’t tell their partners about their debts because they were worried about how they would react.

Financial privacy is one thing, but if secret debts threaten the stability of the whole household then it can be a real issue – and an added strain on a relationship. Before linking your finances with a partner it is important you ensure you know about their credit history.

Could you be liable for your partner’s debts?

One thing that scares a lot of people is whether they are personally liable for their partner’s debts. For the most part, you can only be held responsible for debts that are in your name or held jointly in your name – so if you have a shared credit card or bank account with an overdraft then you should check the balance regularly.

If you and your partner are jointly liable for debts then that doesn’t mean you owe just half the money – the creditor can demand you repay the full amount if they can’t get it from the other account holder.

There are some household bills like council tax where you will be considered liable if you’ve been living in the property for a period but for the most part, debts in your partner’s name remain solely their responsibility.

Having said that, if you share a mortgage and your partner is facing bankruptcy then this can have an effect on your stability, although you should be able to protect your half of any equity in the property. The best thing to do is get advice as soon as you know there is a problem; ring us or encourage your partner to get in touch.

When a partner becomes an ex

There are many reasons why relationships fail and the stress caused by debt is a common one. However, if your partner has a lot of unpaid debt and moves out, you may find that collectors and bailiffs pursue them at your address. This can be quite scary but you need to stand firm and not allow the debt recovery professionals into your home. Explain that the debts are not yours and that your ex-partner no longer lives at this address.

If creditors continue to chase you for debts that aren’t your responsibility then you could ask the credit reference agencies to unlink your names on your credit record. However, that will only be possible if you no longer have any financial ties to your ex, including bills and debts in both your names.

Talk to us

If you’re struggling with debt and are worried about telling your partner, or if you’re worried that your partner’s own debt situation needs some proper management then it’s time to get some informed debt advice.

Our qualified, compassionate advisers have experience in helping both individuals and households deal with their debts and they can help you work out the best solution for your financial difficulties. That may be a Debt Management Plan or something more formal like an Individual Voluntary Arrangement, but until you take some advice it can be hard to see a way out of the debt you’re in.

Ring us now on 0800 280 2816. It’s free and we can help you plan your way out of debt.

Filed under Living in Debt

This article was checked and deemed to be correct as at the above publication date, but please be aware that some things may have changed between then and now. So please don't rely on any of this information as a statement of fact, especially if the article was published some time ago.

8 thoughts on “Will your partner’s debts affect you?”

  • Sarah

    September 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Hello I broke up with my ex 11 years ago now I am getting calls from debt collectors am refusing to pay his debts I have excelled credit in my own name can they still peruse ?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      September 30, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      You are only responsible for your own debts. If you had joint debt you are jointly and severally responsible however.
      You need to write to the debt collector and quote CONC about treating customers fairly and not pursuing once they know the debtor no longer lives at that address.

      Reply Report comment

  • Gladys Jameson

    October 7, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    My daughter was overpaid without her knowledge for 5 years. when this was discovered she got an agreement with employer to pay back a small affordable amount each month. Now due to ill health she has given up the post the employer is demanding the amount to be paid in full. Can they do this?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      October 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      She agreed she was overpaid and made an arrangement with her employer to pay back a small affordable amount each month. This means she has admitted liability but is now not in a position to make the previous affordable payment and, of course, her employers should be aware of this. She should write to them explaining again she has no money to pay them and either offer a token payment if she is receiving any money or ask them to write off the debt. It basically all depends on how long she was repaying them until she fell ill but even if they took her to court she would be able to respond with an offer of a token payment and an explanation of the circumstances.

      It is a problem that arises often so also have a look at this – written for employers: http://www.payandbenefitsmagazine.co.uk/article/recovering-overpayments-righting-error

      And this from ACAS – look at the information on the 2 year cap: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4125

      Unfortunately we cannot really add anything further as this is beyond the remit of this site.

      Reply Report comment

  • Jamie

    January 18, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    My partner had taking a contact phone out for her mother and now her mother hasnt been paying her phone bill so now it has went to a debt recovery. Will this affect my credit rating?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      January 21, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      No it should not. It will affect your partner’s credit rating but unless you have any joint debts which will allow them to check your credit file as well, it will have no impact. If you do have joint debts although it will not be on your credit file they can look at her credit file as well if you apply for credit.

      Reply Report comment

  • Pauline

    April 18, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    I have recently got married and have some credit card debt that i am paying more than the min amount per month, however i have an account that i have defaulted on last year because the payments were too high and i was only paying interest off, i made an informal arrangement with the company to make a small payment every month, which i did for sometime, however they sold the debt and to a debt agency and payments stopped and will be getting set back up soon. My worry is that now we want to buy a house and i haven’t fully told my husband about said default and i doubt i will get accepted for a mortgage, i just don’t know how to tell my husband. Is there the option of my husband buying the house in his name alone?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      April 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Depending on his income of course there is. It also depends on the size of the deposit. However, start making payments again and you can explain why there was a blip on one of the accounts – the default however, will remain for 6 years from when it was added.
      It is better to be upfront about this when applying if you have joint debts however as even if he applied alone if you have any joint debt this will allow the lender to look at your credit record too. There are also specialist mortgage brokers who could look at this where a slight impairment of credit record would not make too much difference. However, interest might be higher.

      Reply Report comment

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