Going through a divorce isn’t just an emotional challenge, it’s a logistical one, too. But while you’re sorting out who gets what, it’s important to make sure that you’ll be able to land on your feet financially and won’t be saddled with your former spouse’s debt. Here are four ways to protect your credit during a divorce.
1. Understand your responsibilities
Unfortunately, a divorce doesn’t affect your responsibility to pay off a joint debt. For example, if you co-signed a credit card with your spouse and the spouse takes over the card after the split, you are still legally on the hook for any debts he or she incurs on the card. If your ex falls behind on the payments, it’ll impact your credit score — and you might end up having to go to court. Moreover, depending on state laws, collections agencies might still be able to try to collect debt even after it’s off your credit report.
Generally speaking, a divorce decree is an agreement between you and the courts, not you and your lender. You’ll have to go through every joint credit card account, cancel it, and transfer the remaining balance to a card in the name of whoever’s assuming responsibility for the debt.
2. Open your own checking account
As unlikely as it may seem, there’s always a chance that your spouse might do something to ruin your finances, like draining a joint checking account. To keep yourself covered, open a checking account in your own name (if you don’t already have one) and start depositing your paychecks into that account.
While you’re at it, make sure that all automatic payments for the credit cards and bills in your name are coming out of your own checking account, so you aren’t hit by late-payment fees once you close the joint account.
3. Get a credit card in your own name
After you’ve closed all your joint credit cards, you’ll probably want to open some of your own. If you haven’t already started building your own credit, start by applying for a low-limit credit card and gradually increasing the limit. And if you don’t have your own income, check out our article on ways to get a credit card without an annual salary.
4. Change your passwords and update your information
Take steps to ensure that your spouse can’t access your financial information. Change the PINs on your debit cards and the passwords on all your bank account websites, and make sure that your spouse can’t easily guess the answers to your security questions. If you’ve already moved out, make sure to update your address for your credit reports and bank account statements. Not only will this ensure that important information gets to the right place, but it’ll add a layer of security against your ex snooping.
The idea that your former spouse might try to ruin your finances after a divorce may sound crazy, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. These steps will help you protect your money and make a fresh start.
This article updated July 1, 2016. It originally published Feb. 13, 2015.