Divorce and your credit cards

Credit Card Tips During a Divorce

by Bill Hardekopf

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Credit card debt is a factor to consider during a divorce. You aren't just separating your lives, but your finances as well. If you do this correctly, you can avoid a financial mess and go on with your life. If it is done incorrectly, you could have a financial disaster that ruins your credit and you will pay much more than lawyer fees. Here are some credit card issues to address if you are going through a divorce:

Get a complete picture of your debt. Get copies of credit reports from all three agencies for you and your spouse. Make a list of every open credit account and whether it is a joint or individual account. You may be surprised to find active accounts that you didn't know existed.

Close joint accounts. Joint accounts are held by you and your spouse together, and both of you are equally responsible for the debt. The creditor reports account activity to the credit bureau in both of your names. This affects the personal credit score for both individuals.

Each person is responsible for the debt, regardless of how the debt is distributed in the divorce. If an account is left open, your ex-spouse can add more debt, make a late payment, miss a payment, or default, and you will also be held responsible. It will not only be costly for you, but also it can hurt your credit score and trigger a rate increase for all of your credit accounts.

By law, a creditor can't close an account because of a change in marital status, but the account can be closed at the request of either spouse. However, a creditor does not have to change a joint account into an individual account. They can require you to reapply for credit on an individual basis. They will treat this as a new application and will either accept or deny your application.

When you close the account, notify the credit card company about the divorce with a certified letter. Ask them to provide a current account statement and tell them that you do not intend to be held liable for any debt accumulated after the date of the written letter. Request that they put the account on inactive status so that no new charges may be added and stipulate that once the balance is paid in full, the account is to be closed completely. Follow up with a phone call to your credit card issuer.

If you close an account with an outstanding balance, you still have to pay off the balance. Create a payment plan and make sure that you continue making payments on time so you won't hurt your credit score and incur the late fees. Monitor your account each month to make sure your ex-spouse is also making the correct payment. Pay off your balance as quickly as possible.

If one spouse is assigned the credit card debt, close the joint account and roll it into a new account in the spouse's name.

Are you heading for debt trouble? This simple checklist can help you find out and provide options for doing something about it.

Remove names from each other's accounts. Close all joint accounts and have your name removed from accounts that will continue to be used by your spouse. This will limit your responsibility for new debts by your spouse (you will still be responsible for old debts incurred up until that point). If your spouse is an authorized user in any of your accounts, revoke the authorization. Send the request by certified mail.

Pay off the credit card debt before the divorce is final, even if you have to liquidate marital assets. This will prevent the possibility of future financial problems. If your ex-spouse declares bankruptcy, then the credit card company will turn to you for full payment.

After the divorce is finalized, monitor your credit report to see if any errors or problems pop up from the joint credit you had during your marriage.

Bill Hardekopf is the CEO of LowCards.com, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card. The LowCards.com Complete Credit Card Index is the most objective and comprehensive resource on the Internet, which allows consumers to compare rates for all 1060 credit cards offered in this country.

Take the Next Step:

  • Order your credit report from all three credit bureaus. You can receive a free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies once every 12 months. To request a credit report under that law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Divorce is a diffcult time. Visit Divorce360 for more helpful advice.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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