Mary Elias is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), in West Palm Beach, answers:
If you are going through a divorce, you should immediately begin taking steps to protect your credit score. Your financial future depends on a good credit rating. Here are some tips for handling your finances during and after your divorce in order to protect your credit score.
Handling Joint Credit Cards and Other Debts
You should immediately order your credit report and find out exactly what debts you have. In your credit report you will see all debts that belong to you and your spouse as well as the accounts that belong solely to you. You should closely monitor debts that your spouse has access to, such as credit cards, bank loans, mortgages and home equity lines of credit. If you are concerned that your soon-to-be ex-spouse might borrow money in your name, you might want to sign up for a credit monitoring service. These services will notify you anytime there is a change to your credit history.
Close Joint Accounts If Possible
If possible, close all joint accounts. You will likely only be able to close accounts that have a zero balance. Regardless, you should call all credit card companies, banks or other creditors and request that the joint accounts be closed. Make it clear that you will not be responsible for any charges.
Stay Current on All Joint Accounts
It is very important to make payments to all joint accounts on time even though you are going through a divorce. Unfortunately, divorce negotiations can go on for a long time and late or outstanding payments can really hurt your credit score. Your credit rating will go down if a payment is late or missed entirely, even if your spouse is assuming the debt.
Freeze Accounts that Can’t Be Closed
If you find that you are not able to close an account due to an outstanding balance, request that a freeze be placed on your account. This will prevent any further charges. You will still be jointly responsible for the balance, but no further debt can be added to the account. Remember to document all details related to this call and write and mail a letter.
Close Joint Bank Accounts
Most couples have a joint checking and savings accounts. These need to be closed as soon as possible. However, you should talk to your lawyer before withdrawing money or closing your account since each state has rules about this. You will want to open a new account for yourself as soon as possible.