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.

31 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?


    • 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?

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    • 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

  • hayley jones

    June 27, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I would like to go bankrupt, but got married 18months ago, my husband owns a property, my name isn’t on the mortgage or the deeds, we have no joint accounts, if I go bankrupt will it affect my husband and the house?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      June 27, 2017 at 10:02 am

      As long as you have no joint debts such as an overdraft or loan together then it should have no effect on your husband – as you married quite recently and the property is in your husband’s name and presumably was for a long time before you moved in together your beneficial interest in the property is minimal.

      Reply Report comment

  • leticia blight

    June 29, 2017 at 11:09 am

    hi I have a debt with tax credits over payment this was befor I married they want my husbands income to calculate my repayments.i don’t understand what it has to do with my husband its my debt

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      June 29, 2017 at 11:18 am

      It is your debt but you are now in a situation where you are sharing bills with another person. You should explain what proportion of the household bills you pay. If you earn 50% of the joint household income then you should be paying 50% of the bills and they can then work out how much you can pay towards this debt and perhaps others. If he earns more and you less then this is taken into account and by providing a joint income and expenditure he can have his share of the disposable income to pay his separate bills – he does not have to pay your debts.

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      • leticia blight

        June 29, 2017 at 11:25 am

        i earn more than him is wages is a set pay.in my job i can earn more being a community carer my wages fluctuate but is more than his every month

        Reply Report comment

        • Jane Clack

          June 29, 2017 at 11:36 am

          So you have no problem declaring his income as he has a smaller proportion of the total income. You pay more of the household bills.

          Reply Report comment

  • Sally

    July 13, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I’m in love with a man who has financial issues, he was married before but after breaking up with his then wife he couldn’t pay the mortgage anymore and he didn’t have enough time to sell the house. Now the debtor are behind his back for over 5 years now, they’ve tried to block his account several times. He’s currently living on Social help, his wife doesn’t work either. We’ve been together for only 3 months, I’m worried that his financial situation my have a huge impact on your future. He’s a great spender as well which makes me feel like he might not be able to pay up his debts and I might get involved once we decide to live together. We are talking about 300 000 Euros. Initially it was 360 000 Euros. Some years back he made an agreement with the debtors and was asked to pay 100 000 Euros within 6 months, he only managed to raise up 60 000, which made them take him back to the current amount. My question is, why can’t his ex wife pay half of the amount? (They bought this house together). Is this a big financial red flag for me? I have a little son and I wouldn’t want this to have a negative impact to his future. Incase we move in together, can the debtors send auctionares to get the stuff we have? Everything is his, I have my own apartment but afraid of giving it up and moving in with my boyfriend.

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      July 13, 2017 at 8:58 am

      First of all I can only comment on the situation in the United Kingdom and as you are talking about Euros I feel that you do not live here.

      In the United Kingdom if you have a joint debt you are jointly and severally liable which means that both parties are liable for up to 100% of the debt not 50% each. As this is a mortgage shortfall then they will pursue both. In the UK he could go bankrupt – if he did his then wife would be liable for all of the debt as it would be written off in the bankruptcy.

      In the UK also unless you have joint financial obligations then your credit files are completely separate. If you do then creditors will see this and can then look at the partner’s credit file to see if there were any risks lending to the other.

      I cannot comment on emotional ties but you do say he is a great spender and is living on benefits which means he does not have a great disposable income.

      I am sorry I cannot answer anything further. You need to find out the situation where you are living.

      Reply Report comment

  • Louisa

    July 21, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    How likely is it that two small payday loans this year will affect mortgage eligibility?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      July 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      It depends on the lender I suppose. They will want to see how quickly they were repaid – if in fact they have appeared on your credit file – and they may want to know what led to the money being needed. Defaults are more damaging.

      Reply Report comment

  • Robin

    July 31, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    My boyfriend is still married but legally separated and now they are finally getting around to the paperwork. Their home is in both names; she’s been paying the mortgage (with roommates) but cannot get a loan in her name alone. She wants him to keep the loan in their name and just keep doing what she’s been doing. My question is will this affect our getting a mortgage on a new home for us?
    One other question, what are the rules for alimony? She wants him to keep a Parent loan they took out for their son instead of alimony. Is this a good idea?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      July 31, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      I am sorry we are unable to answer questions for cases outside the United Kingdom. Your use of the word alimony and parent loan would suggest you do not live in this jurisdiction. I am sorry.

      Reply Report comment

  • Lee

    August 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    I left my ex partner 6 years ago. They were in debt and they ran up credit card debts in their name. I am now with my new partner and have a baby. I have received a small claim court summons saying my ex is claiming 9k.

    No cards were ever in my name, my credit rating is excellent and I distanced away from cards.

    We were not married and no joint account or joint cards.
    I’m worried sick. What is the legislation that states if you do not sign anything you are not liable, she’s spent up over last 6 years.

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      August 13, 2017 at 10:52 am

      She has to prove that you owed her the money – she has issued the summons so you need to defend it saying you do not owe her any money. If you do not defend it then she will get a default judgment in her favour. Go to http://www.nationaldebtline.org and download their factsheet on defending a claim. There is not space enough here – nor is it a suitable place to discuss this in full – but a local Citizens Advice Bureau would be able to help with disputing a debt.

      Reply Report comment

  • Sam

    September 22, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I have a unpaid mobile phone contact which has now been passed on to a debt collector. I have a informal repayment in place however they have asked me to fill out a financial statement but I’m not sure how to do this. I am a stay at home mum and my partner works full time, we receive working tax credits and a small amount of housing benefit, I do not have an income as such and my partner has given me a sum every month to try and get the bill paid which is the current payment I have in place but I’m lost as to what I put on the financial statement, do I add my partners wages as income and If I o and they ask for more my partner will not be happy as its not his debt. Any advise would be very much appreciated.

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      September 22, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      I am emailing you an repayment arrangement guide to show you what to do. You can put your husband’s income plus the working tax credits and child benefit and child tax credits which you will be receiving and show you are receiving housing benefit. This shows your family income is not very high and your husband is not expected to pay your debts – especially as you are already repaying at a rate you can afford. I am sending you a copy of our budget and if you fill it in I can look at it for you and check it is in a form the creditors will accept. You should not panic or feel guilty – you are acknowledging and repaying the debt.

      Reply Report comment

  • Mike

    October 12, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    My wife took out a loan in her name to repay her mother for wedding which I was told was a gift were separated now and she says I have to pay half is this right

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      October 13, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      The loan is in her name so in law she is the only one liable. Morally you and she may feel this is different but the law says she is responsible.

      Reply Report comment

  • Lisa wwar

    November 1, 2017 at 11:44 am

    I have a huge debt due to an over payment of housing benefit while I was with an ex partner. The bailiffs are asking for my partners wage details but he won’t let me tell them as he has nothing to do with this debt. Do I have to give them his details?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      November 2, 2017 at 10:59 am

      No, they are his details. Who was claiming the housing benefit as if it were in joint names they should also be pursuing your ex partner but they will always go to the easiest first.
      If they have entered the property however they can exercise a warrant of control on goods in there and your partner would have to prove they were his. You need to get an arrangement set up.

      Reply Report comment

  • Rob

    November 22, 2017 at 9:50 am

    My partner has a warrent from the county court from a comapny she owes money too. Tbe bailiifs have posted a note saying they knocked with the intention to remove goods to cover costs. Pretty much everything in the house is mine. I bought them years ago and dont have receipts to prove this. Can i write a declaration of ownership and get it signed at the local magistrate’s court to prove the items are mine?

    Reply Report comment

    • Jane Clack

      November 22, 2017 at 10:15 am

      First of all these are county court bailiffs. They have no rights of entry unless they have already been let in. County court bailiffs are easier to deal with but your partner needs to deal with the problem. She has a county court judgment to which she has not responded. She needs to vary the judgment and suspend the warrant using an N245. She can find a fact sheet on this at http://www.nationaldebtline.co.uk I am not sure whether any clerk to the courts can sign such a declaration without proof.

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      • Rob

        November 22, 2017 at 10:29 am

        I was told it would cost £25 for either a Solicitor or a Magistrate Judge to sign it, i dont mind paying for it to be done as i would lose more than that if stuff was removed. And yes i will be making sure that my partner gets in contact asap which is hard a she is at Uni full time Mon-Thurs, i am just hoping to cover all bases as i knoe she doesnt deal with confrontation very well and will most likely end up allowing them in. Thanks for the reply i will ring the local magistrates court and speak to the clerks to see if this a viable option.
        Many Thankdms again

        Reply Report comment

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