Relationships & Credit

My spouse had bad credit before we were married. How will that affect me?
Individual accounts your spouse held before you were married will not affect your credit report or credit scores. However, if you are added to those accounts as a joint account holder, they will become part of your credit history and can hurt your credit scores. The same is true for joint accounts that you open during your marriage.

A credit account held solely in the name of your spouse, your child or any other family member cannot impact your credit score because you are not responsible for the debt. These accounts do not appear in your credit report.

How will new accounts opened after we are married affect my credit?
It is important that joint account holders understand that their credit behavior does affect the other joint account holder or main account holder. If you are married, you may choose to open new accounts individually or jointly with your spouse. Keep in mind that, in community-property states, all debt acquired during a marriage may be considered a joint debt, whether the account is joint or in the name of an individual spouse. In all states, both parties in a joint account share full responsibility for the debt.

How could a divorce affect my credit?
When you obtained credit jointly, you and your spouse signed a contract agreeing to share responsibility for paying your bills. A divorce decree doesn’t change that contract. When you divorce, each of you remains fully responsible for your debts under a joint account.

How can I protect my credit during and after a divorce?

  • Communicate with your spouse as you plan the divorce. Make as clean a financial cut as possible.
  • Communicate with your creditors. Decide which credit belongs to whom, and then ask each company or bank to transfer the debt to the name of the person who will be responsible. Be aware that the responsible person may have to qualify independently before the lender will alter the contract.
  • During divorce negotiations, keep all payments on joint bills up to date, even if you ultimately will have no responsibility for the debt. You want a favorable record when you ask the creditor to release you from joint liability.
  • Ask the credit grantor to remove your spouse’s name as an authorized user or close the joint account to additional charges.
  • If your spouse runs up large amounts of debt, you should close as many of the accounts as possible. You may be able to close the accounts to further charges even if there is a balance, which can help prevent your spouse from increasing the debt even more. Inform all creditors, in writing, that you are not responsible for these debts. This may not prevent them from trying to collect, but it does show that you attempted to act responsibly.
  • Upon your divorce settlement, you and your ex-spouse might consider obtaining individual consolidation loans to cover your share of the joint bills. Pay off the joint bills with your individual loans and close all joint accounts. This helps ensure you’ll be responsible only for those bills you agreed to pay. It also will help you establish or re-establish credit in your own name.

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