When you marry someone with poor credit, your own credit doesn’t necessarily take a hit.
In theory, you could lead separate financial lives ‘til death do you part. “As long as you don’t have joint accounts, it stays separate,” says Bruce McClary, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. That’s because credit reports, which are the basis for your credit score, are tied to individual Social Security numbers.
When you take out a mortgage, car loan, or other debt together, however, your financial lives become entwined. Your ability to get a loan—not to mention the interest rate you pay—will be based on both partners’ credit histories. Yours may be stellar, but if your spouse (or any co-signer) has a spotty record, the terms likely won’t be as favorable.
While your husband’s or wife’s bad credit won’t necessarily drag your rating down, your good habits may bring your spouse’s rating up. As long as you continue to pay your bills on time and manage your credit wisely, in time your spouse will likely see his or her score improve. “This can be an opportunity for the person with better financial habits to help their spouse improve how they manage their money,” McClary adds.
Of course, if his or her irresponsible money habits result in late payments or maxed-out credit cards on joint accounts, your own credit will suffer. For this reason (and others), it’s a good idea to get naked about finances before you tie the knot.
“The challenge of marrying someone with bad credit is that if there is an underlying issue that hasn’t been resolved, it’s likely to come up again,” says Bonnie A. Sewell, a certified financial planner and principal with American Capital Planning in Leesburg, Va.
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If bad credit is the product of a one-time problem, such as an unexpected medical crisis or extended unemployment, that’s one thing. If your beloved has a habit of living beyond his or her means or shirking financial responsibilities, it may be symptomatic of deeper issues. “In that case,” says Sewell “you could run into some bigger problems down the road.”