Credit Card Issues to Address If You’re Going Through Divorce

by Bill Hardekopf
Credit Card Issues to Address If Divorcing photo

Be sure to address these credit cards issues if you’re going through divorce to protect both parties and avoid any costly surprises later.

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.

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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.

Do this even if you have to liquidate marital assets. If you don’t have enough cash, think about dividing up the debt, transferring your share to your own cards, and then canceling the joint accounts.

If paying off all the debt is impossible, then 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 the two of you can’t reach an agreement on your own, hire a mediator or financial planner to help you come to a resolution.

After the divorce is finalized, monitor your credit report.

You’re checking to see if any errors or problems pop up from the joint credit you had during your marriage. You can get a free copy of each report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Sign up for a credit monitoring service if you are concerned about identity fraud or the possibility of new joint accounts opened after the divorce.

Make sure you have a credit card in your name only.

If you don’t have a credit card in your name only, apply for one now. It may be easier to get a credit card in your name now than after the divorce.

Make sure your credit card companies have your correct address.

If you are the one who moves out, notify your credit card companies of your change of address. Submit a change of address card with the Postal Service.

Reviewed June 2021

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Subscribe to After 50 Finances, our weekly newsletter dedicated to people 50 years and older. Each issue features financial topics and other issues important to the 50+ crowd that can help you plan for a comfortable retirement even if you haven't saved enough.

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You deserve a comfortable retirement.

Subscribe to After 50 Finances, our weekly newsletter dedicated to people 50 years and older. Each issue features financial topics and other issues important to the 50+ crowd that can help you plan for a comfortable retirement even if you haven't saved enough.

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