When you go through a divorce, it’s tough on everyone. And the last thing on your mind is how it will affect your credit. But, the decisions you make – before and after a divorce – will play a crucial role in determining your financial future.
Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And once you get there, you’ll be happy you kept your credit safe along the way!
We’re not talking about just your credit score. You need to pull your full credit report from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax and analyze how much you owe and to whom. Pay attention to any loans, credit card accounts, lines of credit, or unusual activity. You can receive a free copy of your credit report through annualcreditreport.com.
When analyzing your credit report, pay attention to each account’s names and separate individual accounts from any joint accounts. Even after a divorce, you’re still required to service the debt on joint accounts. Whether you or your spouse get the money, having that on your credit profile means you are legally obligated to make the payments. Remember, if the balance goes unpaid, it will have a negative effect on your credit score.
The best strategy is to talk to your spouse directly or negotiate a settlement through a lawyer. If you can reach an agreement where your spouse will take sole responsibility for the account, you still have to contact the creditor. Remember, creditors prefer more names on a debit account because it decreases their risk by allowing them to hold more people liable if the debt goes unpaid. So, make sure you call the creditor directly and ask them to remove your name from the account. After a divorce, creditors usually will oblige, but be prepared if they resist.
After the separation is complete, it’s time to focus on you. Build a healthy credit history for yourself by opening accounts in your name. You shouldn’t go crazy here. Only take out loans, credit cards, or lines of credit that you actually need and keep your purchases to less than 30% of your available limit. Now, if your spouse was in control of the household finances and you have little to no credit history, it may take a while to build up your credit profile. If you don’t qualify for a standard credit card, look at a secured credit card. You have to put up collateral, and the amount you can borrow is usually very low, but small steps add up over time. And as you repay the balance in full and on time, your credit score will start to move in the right direction.
Even if you follow our advice above, some items can get ‘lost in translation’ during the divorce process. Thus, you need to monitor your credit report regularly. A 2013 study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that 25% of people had errors on their credit reports. Moreover, nearly 5% of them had more than a 25 point change in their credit score due to reporting errors, while 0.40% had more than a 100 point change. More importantly, 80% of people who filed disputes about credit report errors had the issue rectified somehow. And 10% of people saw a positive change in their credit score due to the correction.
The point is: you need to stay on top of your credit report during and after a divorce. We know it’s never easy, but you’ll be better off in the long run.