Mitigating Credit Problems When a Marriage Fails
Can a spouse ruin your credit? You bet. The good news is, if a breakup is on the horizon, you can take some steps to mitigate or avoid credit problems.
The fact is, if your name is on a loan or credit card as a co-borrower, you are liable for any debts, despite how you and your spouse may have agreed to split them. In addition, if you are a resident of a community property state, such as California or Arizona, you are also liable for any debts taken on during the marriage even if your name is not on the application (for example, a credit card that is solely in the spouse’s name is still your responsibility).
If you are facing separation or divorce, it’s crucial that you separate your financial affairs. Close any joint accounts – checking, lines of credit, credit cards – and establish individual ones. If the institution requires you to pay off all balances before opening new accounts and it’s not feasible, at least close the account to prevent a spouse from adding any more charges (even overdrawn checking accounts are your responsibility). Call credit card companies that have both of you listed and establish separate accounts. Request a letter from them stating you are no longer an authorized user of a certain account. It’s important that you take these steps before signing any final divorce decrees, as you may need the cooperation of the soon-to-be-ex-spouse. And, in the name of protecting your credit, when facing a joint charge on something, do not wait until the spouse pays their share, possibly jeopardizing your credit while you wait. Pay the total then go after the spouse.
If the damage has been done already, there”s still hope. After seven years, bad credit is expelled from your credit report. And in the meantime, credit scoring weighs recent good credit more favorably than aging bad credit.