Many spouses choose to buy homes together by obtaining a joint mortgage. It's often easier to qualify for a joint mortgage, because both spouses can contribute income and assets to the application. However, if one spouse can qualify for a mortgage based on his own income and credit, the mortgage does not need to be in both spouses' names unless you live in a community property state.
Community Property States
In community property states, all debts incurred during a marriage automatically become joint debts. In such states, one spouse cannot apply for a mortgage without including the other spouse on the application. Both spouses must sign the mortgage documents, and both spouses' names will appear on the title to the property. As of June 2013, community property states are California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin. In all other states, one spouse can apply for a mortgage without the other spouse.
If your name won't be on the mortgage, the lender won't consider any of your credit, income or employment information when deciding whether to approve the loan. All bills for the mortgage will come in your spouse's name and, unless you live in a community property state, you won't be responsible for paying them. However, you can claim joint ownership of the house if your name is on the title along with your spouse's, even if you're not listed on the mortgage.
Some people choose to put only one spouse's name on the mortgage to free up the other spouse's credit for different uses. For example, if only your husband's name is on the mortgage, it won't count against you if you need to apply for a car loan or other revolving debt. Keeping your name off the mortgage may also be beneficial if you have bad credit or high debt, which would affect your ability to qualify jointly. And if you and your husband default on the mortgage, only his credit score will suffer.
If your spouse has limited income, a low credit score or a large amount of debt, he may not be able to qualify for a mortgage without your help. If he does qualify, his maximum loan amount may be lower than it would have been if you had applied together. If your spouse dies and your name isn't on the mortgage, you may need to apply for a new loan in your own name to keep your home.
Amanda McMullen is a freelancer who has been writing professionally since 2010. She holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and statistics and a second bachelor's degree in integrated mathematics education.