How To Maintain a Good Credit Report During Divorce
Debt and Credit Issues Can Create Complicated And Stressful Times. How To Maintain A Good Credit Report During Divorce
Folks going through a divorce have many things on their mind. It can be a very emotional and stressful time! At some point you will inevitably need to start looking carefully at your debt and financial situation. When you are at that point, here are 5 basic tips:
Deal with Your Debt – Don’t Ignore it!
- Request a Free Credit Report
The first step you should do is order a credit report from at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion and Experian). This will list debts attached to your name, both individually and jointly with your spouse.
There are 3 major credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and Transunion. You may want to order a report from one or all of them. You can also obtain one free credit report per year through annualcreditreport.com . Your divorce lawyer will want a copy anyway. Once you receive it, take time to thoroughly study it. Make sure it appears accurate. Look for errors such as credit lines that you did not authorize, or other mistakes.
Determine all accounts held jointly between you and your spouse, and attempt to separate them if you can. There are many ways to do this, such as by placing a freeze on those accounts to prevent future charges, or even better, transferring the balance to a card held solely by either you or your spouse.
These actions should be done in conjunction with advice from your divorce lawyer . You do not want to take on more debt that you can handle or more than would likely be assigned to you by the Court.
- Understand Your Responsibilities!
Many people are under the misconception that the terms of the Divorce Decree will trump or alter their financial obligations of the amount owed to credit card lenders. The Divorce Decree should clearly delineate which party is to pay which credit cards, but it does not vary the terms of payment and the amount due. So, this means that if you and your spouse are BOTH on an account and the spouse takes over the card after the split, you are still legally responsible for any debts he or she incurs on the card. It will hurt your credit score if your ex falls behind in making the payments. Remember as long as the account remains open with both of your names on it, you are both legally responsible for it, regardless of what other agreements may say!
- Open Your Own Checking Account and Credit Card
We unfortunately see all too often a malicious spouse who wants to punish his partner. Sometimes they will drain a joint bank account. It is often wise to have a checking account in your name and have your pay checks deposited into that account for your protection.
In addition, having a credit card even if it has a small limit is important to build your credit score . Open one in your name only. Be sure to make some charges for needed items and pay the account off timely! Credit Unions are often very accommodating in helping their members in this manner.
- Start Preparing a Budget
Clients are always anxious to get past the divorce as soon as possible. While understandable, don’t be hasty! Until you KNOW the child support, alimony and debt allocation, do not undertake new financial commitments. Will you be paying support or receiving it? How much and under what terms? Do not start looking to buy a new house or car. Wait until you know the outcome of the case and have accurate numbers to deal with.
Work on your own budget to preplan is always good advice. I suggest using a pencil as numbers may change as negotiations transpire! What you learn will be very helpful when you talk with your divorce lawyer.
- Update Your Financial Information and Passwords
Take necessary steps so your spouse cannot access your financial accounts by changing your passwords on financial accounts. Do not use one of your “standard” or past ones but create all new ones. Also be sure to change your PIN numbers on debit cards. To insure privacy, I suggest creating a new email account again with a totally new password.
If you’ve already moved out, make sure to update your new address with creditors and financial institutions and provide a “Change of Address” card to the USPS.
I have posted several other blog posts on this and similar topics. Click here to read “Be Sure to Pull Your Own Free Credit Report” and here to read “Credit Score: Little Known Tip to Protect Your Credit After a Nasty Divorce – Request a Credit Report Freeze?”
These debt and credit issues can be complicated. Be sure to discuss them with your divorce lawyer. Good luck and be proactive and plan ahead on these matters!
PUBLISHER’S COMMENT: All 3 credit bureaus are now offering FREE credit reports during COVID-19. Contact them to request your free credit report. Be careful to request just the FREE report unless you decide to pay to upgrade and buy additional services/information.
Carefully check the details and report any mistakes!
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Robert L. Mues
Attorney Robert "Chip" Mues has been focusing his legal practice throughout Southwest Ohio primarily in divorce and family law matters since 1978. Chip is passionate about family law and has proudly published the Ohio Family Law Blog since 2007. In addition, he is the managing partner of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. To learn more about him or the law firm, visit the firm's website at www.hcmmlaw.com. Appointments are available in person, over the phone or by Zoom. Call us at 937 293-2141.