Going through a divorce is never fun and there is a long list of things that need to be sorted out during the process. Protecting your credit should be at the top of the list. Even if you and your spouse are on the best of terms, his/her future credit activity can negatively affect yours if you do not take the time to properly separate your credit accounts before your divorce is final.
Pull Your Credit Reports
You may already review your credit reports every year, but you’re not looking for erroneous or negative listings this time around.
During a divorce, look over your credit reports to identify the jointly-held accounts for which both you and your spouse are responsible, as well as individual accounts for which you alone are responsible (unless you live in a community property state, in which case any debts accumulated during the marriage are considered joint accounts).
Close Joint Credit Cards
While it is normally never advisable to close a credit card, as it does affect your credit score, it is absolutely imperative that you do so during a divorce. If there is a balance on the credit card, do everything within your power to pay it off so you can close the account before the divorce. If paying off the balance is not possible, transfer the balance to two other credit cards — one in your name and one in theirs.
Open New Accounts In Your Name
When you close your joint credit cards, request that the credit card company issue a new one to you in your name only.
Remove All Credit Card Authorizations
If your spouse is an authorized user on one or more of your credit cards, have them removed. Otherwise, they will be able to continue charging to the account even though they are not legally responsible for the debt.
Make sure your spouse does the same, removing you as an authorized user from any of their credit card accounts. This is not to prevent you from using the card, but rather to protect your credit report in the event that your spouse defaults on the debt, as the activity on an authorized credit card gets reported on the authorized user’s credit report. That said, Experian says it only reports credit card activity on an authorized user’s credit reports if the activity is positive.
Refinance Joint Installment Agreements In One Person’s Name
This should include any shared mortgage, auto loans, or other installment debt. If refinancing isn’t an option, divide responsibility for jointly-held accounts, in writing. For instance, you may opt to keep the house, thus taking over the mortgage. In turn, your spouse may opt to keep the car, thus taking over the auto loan.
Ask Lenders to Send You Monthly Statements For Jointly-Held Accounts Your Spouse Has Agreed to Pay
The last thing you want to do is check up on your spouse after a divorce, but considering the damage not doing so could do to your credit, it’s worth the irritation.
If your spouse has agreed to take on a mortgage, auto loan, or other debt that could not be refinanced in one person’s name, request that the lender send you monthly statements, which you are absolutely entitled to as a joint holder of the account. This way you can be sure that monthly payments are being made on time, as agreed.
Should you discover that your spouse is not following through on their end of the deal, contact your divorce attorney immediately.
Resist The Temptation to Charge Up a Bunch of New Debt
During and after a divorce, you may face some big expenses, from legal fees to moving into a new place, to getting yourself a new car. But the last thing you want to do is turn this brand new start into a bunch of new debt.
While taking on new debt may be unavoidable to some extent, do all you can to minimize the damage. Move into a smaller place, buy a cheaper car, and just generally cut down on every expense possible. You have every reason to expect your financial future to be a bright one, but in the short term, you’re best-served spending cautiously.