Credit & Divorce: Strategic Steps for a Strong Financial Future

divorce and credit

Whether you are just starting to think about a divorce or are in the middle of the process, there are many things you need to think about.  One critical aspect of the divorce process – one that often goes unnoticed but can have lasting effects on your financial well-being – is credit and debt management. Most people don’t spend much time thinking about their credit, but when you need to buy a new house or want a new car, you need good credit so that you can get any financing at a good interest rate.

Any joint debt you have with your spouse will remain both of your responsibility, even after divorce.  Your divorce decree doesn’t absolve you of financial responsibilities, and creditors may not adhere to the court’s orders. While credit isn’t something you think about every day, you want to make sure that you do everything that you can to protect it during your divorce so that you are able to leverage it in the future to buy a new home or get a loan to start a business.  If you aren’t aware of and monitoring your credit, it can be destroyed during divorce.  Let’s delve into six key steps to safeguard your credit during and after divorce.

Get Your Credit Organized

Before filing for divorce, start by organizing a folder for all credit-related documents. This includes credit card bills, mortgage statements, insurance bills, and statements from other recurring accounts.  This is helpful for understanding your credit situation but will also be important as a first step in starting to understand your overall financial situation.  If possible, encourage your spouse to do the same. This organized approach lays the foundation for a clear financial picture.

Run a Credit Report Before Divorce

Accessing your credit report is crucial. By law, you’re entitled to a free copy annually from each major credit reporting agency. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for this information. It’s essential to request reports from all three credit bureaus, which include Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to ensure a comprehensive overview as different agencies may report different accounts. 

These reports will show your credit score.  Credit scores are based on your credit history and range from 300 to 850.  Scores below 669 will make it harder for you to get credit or make it more expensive when you do.  Scores above 740 are considered very good and mean you should have an easier time getting credit in the future.  If you have a higher score, you want to protect it and if you have a lower score you will want to research things that you can do to improve it so that it doesn’t hold you back in the future.

While your score is important to know, more importantly the credit report will show all of your open lines of credit.  What you don’t want is for your spouse to get ahold of some old credit card that you forgot about and start making charges that you will be liable for.

Clean Up Your Credit

To avoid your spouse charging up bills that you will have to pay off, prior to divorce proceedings, close existing accounts to new charges. It is a bit of work to contact each creditor, but it will be well worth it. This step prevents incurring additional charges on joint accounts after the divorce process begins. Be persistent in closing these accounts in writing and keep a copy of each letter for your records.

Payoff Joint Debts

For any joint credit cards shared with your ex-spouse, use marital assets to pay them off and close them. This ensures a clean financial break. If refinancing options are available, consider them to facilitate a smooth transition to individual financial responsibility.  Ideally, you don’t want any joint debts outstanding after the divorce.  And if joint debts will exist, there needs to be a clear and documented plan for who will be paying them.

Monitor Your Credit After Divorce

After the divorce, vigilantly monitor your credit reports, especially jointly held accounts. This proactive approach helps you address any issues promptly. Additionally, you can freeze your credit which prevents anyone from applying for credit in your name.  Remember, your ex-spouse probably knows your social security number and enough personal information to successfully complete a credit application in your name. 

You can freeze your credit online through each of the three credit bureaus.  This means that a password is required to unfreeze it before any new creditor can run a credit application.  It will add an extra step for you when you need to apply for credit, but it’s worth the extra three minutes of work to avoid someone applying for credit in your name (not only does it stop ex-spouses but identity thieves as well, so it’s a good practice in general).

Take Charge to Avoid Delinquency

Finally, if there are any remaining joint accounts and your ex-spouse is not meeting obligations to pay them, consider taking responsibility to avoid negative impacts on your credit. While the divorce agreement may state that your ex-spouse is responsible for payment, again creditors don’t care.  If your name is on it, you are responsible regardless of what was agreed in divorce. 

A derogatory mark can affect your credit for seven years, potentially costing you thousands in additional interest or preventing you from being able to make major purchases.  It is in your best interest to ensure that all accounts are paid timely even if it was agreed that your ex would pay (and again, if possible, pay off all debts with marital assets as part of the divorce so that you don’t have this problem down the road).

Navigating the complexities of credit during divorce requires diligence and strategic planning.  While your credit is probably not the first thing on your mind at this time, there are some steps you need to take to protect yourself.  By following these steps, you will go a long way towards ensuring that you have the credit you will need to reestablish yourself after your divorce.

Sara Zuckerman, CFP®, CDFA® is the founder of Reset Financial Planning located Scottsdale, AZ and serving women across the country with a focus on helping women who find themselves suddenly single in mid-life, align their financial resources with their values to plan for the next chapter of their lives.

 

If you are interested in learning about how I can help you take charge of your finances as a newly single woman, please contact me at  or schedule a free 20-minute consultation.

 

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Reset Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved.