I had terrible credit and was about to declare bankruptcy, but my husband married me anyway

a woman looking frustrated while reading a bill
She was drowning in debt.Urbazon/Getty Images
  • When my future husband and I decided to move in together, I had to tell him about my bad credit.

  • I was embarrassed when we had to get a mortgage or open a credit card.

  • We now prioritize talking about money and credit — especially with our kids.

I graduated from university with a bachelor's degree, $40,000 in student-loan and credit-card debt, and zero money-management skills.

When the time came to get a real job and start paying it all back, I struggled to keep up with the payments. I rarely paid more than the minimum payment on my credit card or the interest on the student loans.

After a few years and more than a few missed payments, the calls from creditors started. I needed help and went to a local credit-counseling office to discuss my options. I opted for a debt-repayment program that's one step before declaring bankruptcy. I accepted that I'd have terrible, no good, really bad credit for as long as it took me to pay off my debt.

Around this time I started dating my future husband. We met at the hospital where I was working and where he was finishing up his postgraduate studies. We dated for a year and eventually decided to move in together. At that point I had to come clean and tell him about my bad credit and what that would mean for us going forward.

I was embarrassed each time we had to make a major purchase or provide financial information

My bad credit became an issue when we opened a joint bank account to save money for our wedding. I was working at a new, higher-paying job, and my salary was significantly higher than his, but only he could be listed as the primary account holder. He told me he didn't have any concerns about my bad credit because of my income and because I never missed a payment on my debt-repayment plan.

After a year of saving, we had our perfect wedding in the mountains. We were your typical double-income, no-kids couple. We traveled, bought new cars, ate out all the time, and got a dog.

What my husband didn't know was how embarrassed I was each time we had to make a major purchase or provide our financial information. Everything had to be under his name and credit.

Even though I had a higher income, I couldn't be the primary borrower on our first mortgage. I'm still not the primary account holder on our credit card, and I'm the one who does most of the purchasing for our household — on that card.

Three years into our marriage, and six after I started on the repayment program, I paid off my debt in full and we started a family. It would be another two years before all records of my debt management would be removed from my credit report.

But making that final payment felt like opening a fresh notebook; walking out of the bank, I was ready to write a new money-management story on the blank pages.

We now make it a priority to talk about money and credit in our house

Over the years my husband and I have learned how we each manage financial matters, and we stick to some simple rules to keep us out of trouble.

We pay off our credit card each month. We refuse to succumb to banks and stores trying to sell us their special credit cards. We prioritize debt repayment on our mortgage, and whenever we can we pay it down with additional lump sums.

We involve our teenagers in our household budgeting and financial discussions, and we give them monthly allowances so they can learn how to manage money. We talk about credit cards, savings accounts, and loans in our house, with the hope that our transparency and openness about money matters will help them make good financial choices in the future.

My husband and I just celebrated our 20th anniversary. We do still have some disagreements about money — mostly because my husband's debt tolerance has always been a lot lower than mine. But we've found common ground and stick to each other's strengths. I manage our finances so we can enjoy ourselves right now, and he takes care of our savings so we'll have a comfortable retirement in the future.

We're six months from paying off our mortgage and being debt-free. I know that when we finally make that last payment and walk out of the bank, we'll be ready to crack open another new notebook and write the next chapter of our lives.

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