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Question: We're rich but my wife's credit rating is better than mine. What do I do?

Your credit score says a lot about what kind of consumer you are.

I am a retired doctor, married, with net worth over $1.75 million and an annual income of about $150,000. To support women's equality over the years, my wife and I put many of our credit cards, utilities, and accounts in my wife's name. Almost all our credit cards have her as the primary account holder and me as an "add-on," all with very high limits that we built up over the years. Her credit report looks excellent.

I ended up with just one small credit card ($4,000 limit) in my own name. I find it annoying to have to use my wife's credit cards for larger purchases. Before applying for cards with higher limits, I requested a free annual credit report. Unlike my wife, I was asked for data about monthly payment amounts and loan holders for a mortgage and vehicle loan paid off nine years ago. I was asked to apply by mail, sending copies of my driver's license, utility bills, etc. It's as if I have no credit record. This is insulting and could be problematic should my wife be incapacitated. What should we do to merge the credit rating data? How else can I build an equally strong rating as my wife without starting over?

Response:

Isn't it amazing that no matter how much money you make, if you don't build credit it's almost as if you don't financially exist! That's a powerless position to be in these days.  

A big point you bring up is the idea of 'marrying' credit. Actually, the credit reporting agences don't "marry" or merge your information when you're married. Each of us carries only our own credit reports and scores through life. Your credit has no impact on your wife's credit and vice versa, except for joint accounts. But being a joint account holder of a credit card is different than being an authorized user, and what you're describing is being an "authorized user." Unfortunately, some credit reporting agencies don't count an "authorized user" status toward your credit history. But you have a credit history. You'd need one to hold a credit card in your name with such a high credit limit ($4,000 may not seem 'high' to you, but it's up there for someone with little credit history).

You can get access to your credit reports for free once a calendar year only at AnnualCreditReport.com. To build credit, you'll need to take out a bit more credit in your name. Find a low-fee, low-interest rate card for free at either NerdWallet.com or Credit.com. Apply for at least one, then use your cards sparingly so you can pay the full balance before the grace period, not accruing any interest. I recommend designating each card for a particular spending item, such as one as your G card (as in gas and groceries) and one you can use to pay for, let's say, magazine or online subscriptions. As you  regularly use these cards, you'll build better credit.

Even in marriage, when it comes to money we still have to think of ourselves as individuals. And you're right to worry. It's vital to build and maintain your own credit even when you're married. Because if something happens to your spouse, you're on your own financially.

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