A common myth about credit cards in divorce is that creditors adjust joint accounts based on who gets the debt in the divorce. However, both parties are on the hook for the balance until the account is closed. In many cases, creditors won’t close joint accounts until they’re paid in full. So, if you can’t pay or declare bankruptcy, your ex would be on the hook for the remaining balance, even if your divorce decree says otherwise.
It’s a situation that Troy faced after his divorce. He couldn’t afford the bills he’d volunteered to take so he could maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship with his ex. He’s a real client of Consolidated Credit, who got a plan to pay his debt in full so his former wife wouldn’t get stuck with any bills. He shared his story to give hope to others facing situations like his.
Assuming Debt to Ensure a Smooth Co-Parenting Relationship
When Troy realized he and his wife were headed for divorce, he had one goal — maintain the best relationship possible with her, so they could co-parent their five-year-old daughter. So, in their divorce, they split custody of their daughter and he took full custody of their joint credit card debt.
All told, with attorney fees tacked on, Troy owed $24,000 to creditors. At the same time, he’d taken on the mortgage and some other bills. Even though he’d been the breadwinner, it was too much for his budget to handle.
“I didn’t want to file bankruptcy,” Troy says. “My ex was on the cards, and had I filed for bankruptcy, all that debt would’ve ended up on her.”
It’s a common dilemma that people face after divorce. A divorce decree may say one person is responsible for debt, but credit card companies aren’t part of that agreement. Joint debt is joint debt. If one party doesn’t pay or files bankruptcy, the creditor can go after the other.
Troy wasn’t about to do that to his daughter’s mom, so he started looking for alternatives.
“I tried negotiating with the credit card companies on my own, but they wouldn’t work with me,” Troy explains. “They said, ‘We can’t do anything for you.’ So, I just accepted that.”
Getting Professional Support to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
Stressed that he was running out of options, Troy attended a financial literacy presentation at work and stuck around afterward to talk to the presenter. “When he realized how much debt I was in, he asked me if I’d heard about Consolidated Credit. I had but told him I was worried it would damage my credit. He told me, ‘No, it would help you far more than it would hurt you.’”
The presenter was right. When Troy called Consolidated Credit, his certified credit counselor explained the benefits of the program. It would allow him to pay off his debt in full to avoid creditors coming after his ex. It also wouldn’t damage his credit. In fact, as he made payments on the program, they would be credited to his accounts, helping him build a positive payment history.
“My counselor was so full of energy and positive vibes I couldn’t help but feel better talking to her. Then she made some phone calls and had my interest rates reduced significantly. It was exactly what I needed to pay down my debt.”
Another advantage of working with a nonprofit credit counseling service is that they can work with creditors to get concessions that people can’t get on their own. These organizations have established relationships with creditors and proven records of helping customers get out of debt. So, credit card companies will reduce or eliminate interest and stop penalties, even if they won’t make those concessions for you.
“I didn’t have the skills to negotiate with the credit card companies,” Troy admits. “I tried but it didn’t work. I felt like I had no power and was destined to file bankruptcy. But Consolidated Credit took responsibility of negotiating lower interest rates and a payment plan that worked for my budget.”
With a debt management program, Troy paid off all the credit card debt from his divorce. He was debt-free in a few years. The joint accounts that he had with his ex were closed in good standing, keeping his relationship with his daughter’s mom in good standing too.
What You Need to Know About Joint Credit Card Debt
- If Troy’s situation sounds familiar, here are some key things to note:
- After a divorce, you must call your credit card companies and ask them to close joint accounts.
- Creditors may require the balance to be paid in full before they close it.
- If you fail to pay off the balance, it can damage your credit and your ex’s credit.
- If you settle debts for less than you owe, the creditor can also go after your ex.
- Even if a debt is discharged through bankruptcy for you, the creditor can pursue your ex for the balance owed.
If you have bad credit or too much debt to qualify for debt consolidation on your own, then a debt management program may offer a viable way to consolidate. The program can reduce your total credit card payments by up to 50% and allow you to get debt-free in 36-60 months. You can get a free debt and budget evaluation with a certified credit counselor to see if it’s right for you.
Meghan Alard is a PFE-certified Debt Management Professional and personal finance writer for Consolidated Credit. She’s dedicated to helping consumers overcome financial challenges through education. www.consolidatedcredit.org
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