Divorce is not fun for anyone nor is it a financially savvy thing to go through. You are splitting up what you own and what you owe to others. This often includes unpaid credit card balances and loans. What can you do to protect yourself?
I always recommend to individuals and couples going through divorce or even contemplating divorce to immediately check your credit report. You can do this by going to www.annualcreditreport.com
. This is the official consumer site provided in cooperation with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) and the Federal Trade Commission. You will be able to obtain your credit report free from each of the three credit bureaus. Other websites may offer free credit reports but often want you to sign up for something. Watch out for these gimmicks or better yet just use the site mentioned here.
After obtaining your credit report, get three different highlighted markers. Read through the report and highlight all open accounts listed as joint, use a different color highlighter to mark all accounts listed as authorized user, and yet a different highlighter to mark all accounts listed as individual in your name only.
You will want to make sure that all joint credit cards, loans, and indebtedness accounts are closed post-divorce and are so noted in the divorce Judgement and Decree. Closing the accounts does not release you as a joint owner from the liability to pay remaining outstanding balances. It is critical to remember that even though the divorce decree may place responsibility for debt repayment on certain accounts to your spouse, you will remain liable to the creditor/lender should your spouse default on the payments. Even late payments could show up on future credit reports affecting your own credit score. Ideally on any joint debt accounts you will want your spouse to either pay these debts off in full or refinance the outstanding debt in their own name with their own new accounts.
You will also want to address any accounts where you are listed as an authorized user. An authorized user has the same liability as a joint owner for any indebtedness on the account. The sort of gotcha on these types of accounts is that an authorized user is not always able to close the account.
Any individual accounts held by you will be your responsibility to repay. I always recommend that to the extent possible attempt to emerge from the divorce
with as little consumer debt as you can. Doing so will allow you to maximize your cash flow to meet your current living expenses and hopefully save for future goals.
Keeping an eye on your credit and following these few simple steps can go a long way to helping you protect your credit, your credit score, and give you confidence to maximize your cash flow. Divorce as painful as it can be also creates opportunities to start anew.
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