Anyone experiencing a divorce is most likely thinking about the future well-being of their children, cash flow, living arrangements, or even employment options. The last thing on their minds is probably their personal credit.
Your personal credit is an important part of your finances and should be monitored very closely as you begin the divorce process. It determines whether you qualify to borrow money, as well as the terms of the credit. It is also a factor that is considered by insurance companies and prospective employers. Managing this score can be easy when you plan, but very frustrating when you need to “fix something” right away.
A signed divorce decree does not relieve a spouse of joint financial obligations; therefore, any late payments will negatively affect both parties. So, what can you do to protect and prepare yourself as you begin to disentangle your finances from your spouse’s?
Obtain a credit report – The best place to start is obtaining a credit report from each of the three credit bureaus to review what accounts are open in both names. You are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus so you can request a report from one agency every 4 months to easily monitor your credit. This would also be a good time to correct any inaccuracies you find.
Verify your status – Are you/your spouse a joint applicant or an authorized user on each other’s card? An authorized user can be removed from an account, but a joint applicant cannot since both applicants’ income was considered when the credit was granted. Remove your spouse from any accounts where they are listed as an authorized user.
Close all joint credit accounts – Any joint credit cards or lines of credit with no outstanding balance should be closed immediately. This includes overdraft protection on a checking account or a home equity line of credit. Accounts with outstanding balances can be frozen to avoid any increase in the balance.
Address the mortgage/auto loan – If the marital home (accompanied by a mortgage) or an automobile (with a related loan) is to be part of the settlement, consider available refinancing options on both before agreeing to anything. If the asset is transferred to one spouse as part of the settlement, it could still have the other spouse’s name on the debt after the divorce is final. This means their credit will be at risk of late payments. Removing the other spouse from the joint debt can only be done by refinancing or paying the balance in full.
Establish your own credit – If you don’t have individual credit (or have poor credit), get started now. Apply for a new credit card and begin using it responsibly. Building credit takes time – there is no quick fix. Using it regularly, responsibly and paying it timely will build your credit over time.
When dividing the marital liabilities, the associated credit risk always needs to be considered. Without taking these protective measures, your credit could remain vulnerable (post-divorce) to late payments, lack of liquidity/cash flow, or even an ex-spouse’s spending spree. Protect yourself with these steps so your credit is there when you need it.