After a divorce, you are probably thinking about a lot of things—your children, your future, your assets, where you will live, how you will earn money. Many people neglect important parts of their finances, such as their credit score. Your credit score is very important, but many people see theirs drop significantly after a divorce due to various factors.
If your credit is based on joint accounts held primarily in your ex-spouse’s name, you are going to face trouble after a divorce. You often will not get credit for on-time payments if you are a secondary user. Plus, if there is any debt, it will be on you and could follow you for many years after a divorce.
This is why it is crucial to have credit established in your own name. Your credit score determines your eligibility for loans, which can be helpful if you need a new car or ever want to buy a house. Whether you are already divorced or plan to be in the future, it is important to open your own bank accounts and credit cards as soon as possible. There are some other things you can do to protect your credit after a divorce.
Close Joint Accounts
As soon as you decide to divorce, you should close all joint bank accounts, loans, and credit cards as soon as possible. This will keep your ex-spouse from going on a spending spree and adding more debt. Keep in mind that on a joint account, you are both responsible for the debt, no matter who spends the money. In some cases, you can put the account in your name only. For mortgages and car loans, though, you would have to refinance in your name only.
Notify Creditors and Lenders
It is a good idea to send certified letters to your credit card companies, mortgage company, and other lenders letting them know about your divorce. Request a current account statement from each lender and let them know that you will not be responsible for any new charges going forward. If you have reached a settlement in your divorce, let your creditors and lenders know so they are aware. However, this does not mean you are off the hook.
Make Sure Bills are Getting Paid
Even if your ex agreed to pay off the credit cards and this agreement is in the divorce decree, you are still liable for the payments. The lender does not care; if it is a joint account, you are both legally responsible for paying the bills. If your ex does not make the payments, the lender will look to you for payment and your credit score will suffer as a result. In fact, this is why many people see their credit scores dip after a divorce. They assume their ex is making the payments. Check the accounts every month and make plans to pay these bills yourself. This may not seem fair, but it is the only way to protect your credit. If you do pay a bill, be sure to let your lawyer know; they may be able to seek reimbursement from your ex.
Make sure you are getting statements from lenders so you can see if payments are being made. If you have moved out from your marital home, this means updating your address. You can do so at your local post office or online at usps.com.
Use Credit Cards Wisely
Be careful of your spending during and after the divorce. While you may not be able to pay your balances in full each month as you struggle to pay legal fees, at least make the minimum payment. Avoid maxing out your credit cards and make wise purchases. Avoid spending money out of revenge or to feel better about yourself. It can take a long time to pay off debt, so do not do things you will later regret.
Freeze Your Credit
If your spouse has abused your credit in the past, you may want to “freeze” your credit. This will keep your ex from opening new accounts in your name. They will not be able to use your Social Security number. If they do, you will be alerted.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
It is a good idea to check your credit report regularly after your divorce. Given that your ex probably knows all your personal data, they could easily open credit in your name. Because of this, you will want to check for any unfamiliar accounts. Note that you can get a free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. You might also want to invest in a credit monitoring service. Credit Karma is a free one to consider.
Sue Your Ex
If you are constantly making payments on bills even though your ex was ordered to do so, make sure you seek reimbursement. Get a civil order against your ex and take him or her to court. They are in the wrong, since they did not follow the court order. The judge will hopefully force them to pay up. Ideally, this should be used as a last resort.
Seek Legal Help
Divorces encompass so many elements. There is often so much personal and emotional drama that people forget about their finances, particularly their credit. Credit scores are often hugely impacted after a divorce, so be sure to keep an eye on yours.
Keep your finances in check with help from Broward County divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler. We can help you protect your credit after a divorce. We have more than 30 years of experience. Call (954) 346-6464 or fill out the online form to schedule a consultation.