Five Tips to Protect Your Credit
A divorce can impact your ability to secure credit simply because you may no longer have the income you had when you were married. Here are five tips to maintain a good credit score and protect it for the future.
1. Know your credit score and what affects it.
Your credit score report can be obtained for free (just one per year) through one of three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Your score is determined by your payment history, outstanding balances, history of using credit, the type of credit used and how many inquiries into your credit happen throughout the year.
Keep in mind that it’s good to have a credit card or other credit and to use it occasionally to maintain your access to future credit when needed for a car loan or mortgage, for example. If you had joint credit accounts with your spouse, your credit score may or may not need a little boost after the divorce based on the factors mentioned above.
#2 Eliminate obligations where possible.
A credit card or statement with your name on it does not make you a joint owner of the account. Unless the account was originally opened with an application signed by you, you may only be an authorized signer and you can request to have your name removed from the account immediately. If your former spouse is named on the account as an authorized signer, have his/her name removed to avoid any future charges.
#3 Close joint accounts or freeze future charges.
If there is no balance on a joint account, call the creditor and close the account, noting that this may temporarily affect your credit score. If you are in the process of applying for a loan, however, ask your lender if you should close joint accounts at that time or wait until you have the loan in place to avoid jeopardizing the loan.
If there is a balance that cannot be paid off right away on a joint account, call the creditor and request to freeze the account from any future charges. You can pay off the balance over time without incurring additional debt.
#4 Transfer balances to the responsible party’s individual card.
For debt that you are not responsible for, request that your former spouse transfer the remaining balance to another credit card in just his/her name. If they are unable to pay their share of the debt, payments still need to be made so that the account doesn’t default and your credit score isn’t affected. Make sure that you are receiving copies of all statements by requesting duplicate copies.
#5 Pay your bills on time, no matter what a judge says.
Divorce decrees do not override account agreements with your creditors. Both spouses are liable and responsible for joint debt regardless of who the judge ordered to pay the bill. If accounts default, then both spouses can be sued or have their wages garnished. One 30-day late payment can drop your score 25-75 points and it takes months to get those points back.
If you have trouble maintaining current accounts during or after your divorce, consider debt counseling to better manage your finances and preserve your credit score for the future.
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