Is My New Spouse Responsible for My Medical Debt?

When I get married will my husband have to pay on any of my prior outstanding bills?

When I get married will my husband have to pay on any of my prior outstanding bills?

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  • Examine which spouse is responsible for debts incurred before marriage.
  • Review how living in a community property state can affect financial responsibility.
  • Keep assets separate, if one spouse is threatened with collections.

Thank you for your question about the debts you brought into your marriage and your spouse's responsibility to pay them.

Which Spouse is Responsible for Debt Incurred Before Marriage?

The quick answer is: No! Your husband will not be held responsible for your debt. Whatever debts you incurred before marriage will be your responsibility alone. But, if you jointly apply for a mortgage or a loan, BOTH of your credit ratings will be analyzed if you both apply together.

Community Property States

If you live in a community property state, debts incurred during the marriage to benefit the community (your family), such as credit cards used to purchase items which will benefit both spouses, are considered community property, and are therefore owed by both spouses regardless of whether or not both spouses are listed on the credit card. For example, if you lived in Washington State and incurred debt during your marriage, both you and your husband, as a marital community, could be sued to collect on the debt. If a judgment were obtained against you, both yours and your husband's bank accounts could be levied to enforce the debt.

However, even in community property states, many creditors do not go to the trouble of suing both spouses, as doing so tends to complicate the legal process involved in obtaining a judgment. For example, in California, most credit card companies only sue the spouse that actually opened the credit card account. If the creditor chooses to sue only one spouse, and thus obtains a judgment against only spouse who opened the card, the creditor can generally only levy or garnish the assets of that spouse. If you live in one of the community property states mentioned above, and have defaulted on a credit card debt in your name only, I encourage you to consult with an attorney to discuss the possible ramifications for both you and your husband. Since community property schemes vary widely from state to state, it is important to discuss your situation with a legal professional familiar with your states? marital property laws. If you would like to read more about community property in general, I encourage you to visit the Bills.com community property page.

If you would like more information about credit, please visit our credit resource page.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.

Best,

Bill

Bills.com

84 Comments

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  • AL
    Apr, 2013
    April
    If I have a substantial medical debt of about $25,000 from three years ago in Colorado how do I know when or how much they can garnish from my personal checking account?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      May, 2013
      Bill
      A medical-debt creditor must obtain a judgment before it can levy your bank account or garnish your wages. With a judgment in hand, according to the collection laws in Colorado, the entire amount in a bank account with your name on it could be levied. Additionally, 25% of your wages could be garnished, after certain mandatory deductions are subtracted.

      Check your credit report and see if there is a judgment against you. Look in the Public Records area of your report. If you don't have a judgment, make sure you respond to any summons you receive. If the creditors don't have your current address, you may not receive any notice of a lawsuit, but could first become aware of a judgment when a bank account is hit or your payroll department informs you that your wages will be garnished.

      Also, when checking your credit report, note the date of last payment on the debt and pay attention to the statute of limitations on the debt. Your medical debt likely falls under the SOL for a written contract, which is 5 years in Colorado.
      0 Votes

  • CF
    Apr, 2012
    Cynthia
    I live in Texas and was recently married. I own a home which only I claim homestead on; also, I am the only person named on loan docs and the deed. I am selling my house to purchase another. I applied for a loan using only my name and credit. My husband has tax debt incurred prior to our marriage. We file taxes separately.
    1. Does his name need to be on the deed for the new house?
    2. Can the IRS place a lien on the new house if the deed and loan is in my name?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Apr, 2012
      Bill
      1. A spouse in either a community property or common law state may own real property separately. You need not apply for a joint home loan, nor title the property in both spouse's names. It is common in community property states for lenders or title companies to require a spouse to sign a waiver that says basically, "Yes, I know my spouse is buying separate property."
      2. You mentioned residing in Texas, which is a community property state. In community property states, an IRS tax lien for one spouse applies to all community assets, including the other spouse's wages and community property. If you buy the property you mentioned with community assets, then it is available to the IRS for a lien. See IRS documents Part 25. Special Topics, Chapter 18. Community Property, Section 4. Collection of Taxes in Community Property States and Part 25. Special Topics, Chapter 18. Community Property, Section 1. Basic Principles of Community Property Law for details.

      Consult with a tax lawyer for a more detailed analysis of your situation, in particular if you are using your own separate property to pay for the home you are purchasing.

      0 Votes

  • CS
    Mar, 2012
    Clayton
    My wife acquired a substantial amount of medical debt while living in Colorado years before we got married. We live in Wyoming and she is currently unemployed. Collections surprised her today and had her served by a sheriff. The paper she needs to fill out is asking for my information (name, address, phone number etc.) and it states she can be held in contempt if it isn't filled out completely, notarized and returned within 10 days. Does she need to include my information, and can collections come after me for her unpaid medical bills because we are married now? I have outstanding credit, but more important, I have a family to support and can't afford garnished wages. Thank you in advance for any advice.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Mar, 2012
      Bill
      The document you received raises several questions in my mind. To whom are you supposed to return the questionnaire? Did a Wyoming court issue the document? Has a judgment been entered against your spouse? Wyoming is a common law family law state, so I find it curious a court would demand financial information about a debtor's spouse.

      Take the documents you received to a lawyer who has experience in civil law, or more specifically, consumer law. He or she will advise you if and how to complete the document in question. I realize a lawyer's time is not cheap, but if the document is one your spouse can ignore without legal recourse, then the lawyer's fee was well spent.
      0 Votes

  • DO
    Mar, 2012
    Derek
    My wife has bad credit and owes the IRS money from tax debt. The return she owes money on was filed before we were married. We just filed a joint return for the first time. I am afraid by doing this, the money that she owes from before we were married will affect my credit score. Will this happen? She also has collectors coming for her for debt she incured years before we were married and they have been calling me now (all the time). Will that debt affect my credit score and am I liable for that debt now too?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Mar, 2012
      Bill
      The IRS tax debt is not your responsibility and will not affect your credit score. If you file taxes jointly, file an injured spouse form, too, so any refund you are entitled to receive does not go to her debt.

      Her non-IRS debts will not show up on your credit report and you are not responsible for them. However, if a lien is filed by a creditor or by the IRS against her and you and she own property together, you will be affected by the lien that encumbers the jointly-owned property.
      0 Votes

  • LS
    Feb, 2012
    Lindsey
    I live in new york state and my boyfriend and I have been talking about marraige. I am a bit concerned though due to the fact that I have debt from a previous relationship. I have had several issues with debt collectors causing me troubles (bank wise) even though they legally cant cuz I have SSI. My question is can the creditors go after my spouse for my debt if we were to get married?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Feb, 2012
      Bill
      The general rule is that spouses are not liable for each other's pre-marital debt, but there are exceptions. Avoid joint accounts. Any assets, including a bank account, held jointly will be targets of a creditor's collection attempts.
      0 Votes