Q: Two years ago my son moved to Florida, where he fell in love with a girl who had baggage. Shortly after they met she informed him that she was wanted by the FBI for bank and credit card fraud. Although she claimed to be innocent, she was tried, found guilty, sentenced to three years and required to pay back $250,000 in restitution.
My son is still in love with this person; he intends to marry her when she is released next year. If they get married, could his credit rating be affected? Could he buy a car or a house on credit? Would he be liable for her restitution? Could his salary be garnisheed? Trying to talk him out of marrying her has not been successful. However, I want to advise him of the pitfalls if he does marry. - AS, via e-mail
A: The young woman's past won't affect your son's credit rating if he marries her. But it's going to make their financial life very difficult.
Your prospective daughter-in-law's criminal conviction can't taint your son's credit rating. Each spouse's credit rating is based on his or her individual record. Nor will her $250,000 liability become a joint liability if she marries him: No one can garnishee your son's salary to repay debts she incurred before they married.
So much for the good news.
This young woman will never get credit again. They'll never clear her debt, because this type of liability can't be discharged in a bankruptcy. So their ability to borrow - to get a mortgage and a car loan, and to make credit card purchases - will depend solely on your son's credit.
And it's extremely unlikely that anyone will ever hire her. So your son will be the sole breadwinner.
"If he applies for a loan to buy something in his name alone, the issue of her credit rating probably won't come up," says Matthew G. Roseman, a Garden City bankruptcy attorney. "But her name could never appear in title to anything they owned."
They couldn't even have a joint bank account: A jointly titled asset would be vulnerable to her creditors unless your son could prove that he was really the sole owner. (One way to prove a joint bank account really didn't belong to her, for example, would be to show that everything in the account came from his electronically deposited paychecks.)
Although his wife's criminal track record won't taint his credit record, in the real world it may still hurt his ability to borrow, says Anthony Sabino, a Mineola bankruptcy attorney who is also an associate professor of law at Tobin College of Business at St John's University.
Any lender who runs a credit check on his wife may decide to charge your son a higher rate, or even refuse to lend to him, explains Sabino. Banks can't discriminate on the grounds of race, gender or religion - but there's no law against refusing to lend money for business reasons. A prudent lender could conclude that your son's ability to repay loans is impaired by a wife with a criminal record and $250,000 of outstanding debt.
As a potential lender to this couple, you, too, should bear this in mind.
Finally, her criminal record could hurt his employment prospects. "In the Internet age, information is readily available -- and job background checks sometimes include spouses," Sabino points out.
Needless to say, none of this augurs well for their future happiness. But you'd be wise let your son reach that conclusion himself, hopefully sooner rather than later.
The more spirited your opposition to the marriage, the less effective it's likely to be.