Posted by Paul F. Lynch
Settling financial matters with your spouse during a divorce can be complex, both from a practical and an emotional standpoint. If you have joint debts, you’ll need to take extra care to protect your credit. A divorce itself doesn’t cause bad credit, but nonpayment of joint debts by either party after the divorce can.
No matter what you and your former spouse agree on or what the divorce decree states, you are both equally responsible for all joint debt, and if either person defaults on a joint debt, it will affect the other’s credit.
Here are six important steps you can take to help protect your credit score:
- Prevent New Debt
The first step in protecting your credit during a divorce is to close all joint accounts as soon as possible. This prevents any new debt from being added.
- Notify the Lenders
You can contact creditors in writing and ask for your name to be removed from any accounts that the divorce decree orders your former spouse to pay. The creditors are under no obligation to do so, but if you send them a copy of the decree and a polite letter asking to be removed, they may comply.
- Monitor Your Credit Report
To stay informed of any changes in your former spouse’s credit history on joint debts, or to find new debt that should not appear in your name, request a copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—every few months. Learn more at USA.gov’s Credit Bureaus and Credit Scoring.
- Pay Your Debts on Time
Be sure to promptly pay any joint or individual debts you’re responsible for. Remember, not only is your former spouse responsible for your credit on these joint debts, but you’re responsible for his or hers.
- Open Individual Credit Accounts
One of the most important factors in determining your credit score is the length of time you have your oldest open account. With all of your joint accounts closed, this may mean you have few or no old accounts. Opening an account soon after your divorce helps you reestablish individual credit. Since your income may be smaller as an individual than it was as a couple, be sure to use credit cards responsibly, and not charge more than you can pay off each month. You don’t need to pay interest in order to get (or maintain) good credit.
- Review Your Life Insurance Policy Periodically
Given the major changes in your life, you may need to adjust the type and amount of life insurance you have to ensure that your loved ones are fully protected. To discuss your life insurance coverage needs and options, call SBLI at 1-800-438-7254.