Divorce and Credit

Submitted by Whitney Clark, Esq., of
Jean M. Mahserjian, Esq., PC
Clifton Park, New York

Divorce and Credit FAQ'S

Q:  If My Ex Does Not Pay a Joint Credit Card, Can The Creditors Come After Me?

A:  Yes. Even if your divorce decree states that your ex is responsible for paying this bill, the creditors can come after you. This is because the creditors were not parties to the divorce and, as such, you are still legally responsible for paying off the joint accounts. Creditors have different polices regarding joint accounts and divorce couples. You should contact each creditor individually to determine whether you or your ex will have on-going liability for joint accounts.

Q:  Will My Ex's Late Payments For Joint Bills Effect My Credit?

A:  Yes. Because the bill is a joint account, any late payments on your ex’s behalf could show up on your credit report.

Q:  Should I Keep Making Payments on Our Joint Bills?

A:  Yes, even if you ultimately will have no responsibility for the debt, you should continue to keep paying at least the minimum amount due on your joint bills during divorce negotiations. If you don't, the missed payments on joint accounts will be posted to both your credit report and your spouse's report. Negative information can remain as long as seven years, even if you later pay the amount in full.

Q:  How Can I Protect Myself From Liability For Our Joint Mortgage?

A:  If only one party will be retaining your home, but the mortgage is in both names, the party who is retaining the home should be required to refinance the mortgage. Otherwise, both parties could continue to be liable for the mortgage and negatively effected if payments are not made on time. If the party cannot refinance, you should consider selling the home and dividing the proceeds.

Q:  How Can I Protect Myself From Liability For Joint Debts?

A:  You should contact the creditors and ask them how to transfer your joint debt to the name of the person who will be responsible. In many cases, before the creditor will allow you to transfer the debt to one name, it will require you to sign an agreement to release one of the parties from liability. You can also obtain individual consolidation loans to pay off your joint accounts. You will each be solely responsible for paying off your individual loans.

Q:  What Can I Do if My Spouse is Incurring Large Amounts of Debt?

A:  To protect yourself from liability for debts which are incurred by your spouse, you should contact the creditors and attempt to close the accounts to future charges. You should then inform all creditors, in writing, that you are not responsible for these debts after a certain date. Be sure to keep a copy for your records, and consider sending the original letter via certified mail. While this may not prevent creditors from trying to collect, it does show that you at least attempted to act responsibly. Remember, even if your name is taken off an account, and even if the account is closed to future charges, you might still have legal responsibility to pay existing balances.

Q:  Should I Close Joint Accounts?

A:  Yes, after a divorce, you should close joint accounts or accounts in which your ex was an authorized user. While a creditor cannot close a joint account simply because there has been a change in marital status, it can do so at the request of either spouse.

Q:  Can I Change Our Joint Accounts to Individual Accounts?

A:  A creditor does not have to change joint accounts to individual accounts. It can require you to apply for credit in your own name and, based on the information contained in your application, grant or deny you credit. In the case of a mortgage or home equity loan, a lender is likely to require refinancing to remove a spouse from the obligation. For More Information

Q:  How Do I Get My Credit Report?

A:  You can contact the three main credit bureaus and ask them to send you your credit report. The three credit bureaus are: TransUnion (800) 851-2674, Experian (800-392-1122), and Equifax (1-800-997-2493). The cost per report is between $3 and $8. If you have been recently turned for credit, you can get a copy of your credit report free. You can also get a free copy of your credit report at:

Click on the following link for a free copy of your credit report: Credit Report

Q:  How Long Does Information Stay on My Credit Report?

A:  All negative information stays on your credit file for anywhere from 3 to 7 years. However, if you are applying for life insurance for over $50,000, or for a job that pays over $20,000, a credit bureau may provide information that is over 10 years old.

Q:  How Do I Correct Negative Information on My Credit Report?

A:  You can challenge the accuracy or completeness of the item. If the credit bureau fails to verify the items you challenged within a reasonable time (defined as 30 business days) from the date your challenge was received, the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to have the challenged item removed from your report.

Q:  What Can Creditors Do If I Don't Pay Them?

A:  In the case of a secured loan, the lender can foreclose on the property that secures the loan. Unsecured lenders can get a court judgment and attach your property and become secured creditors.. A lender can also try to have your wages garnished.

Q:  If I Have Bad Credit, How Long Do I Have to Wait Before I Can Get a Loan?

A:  Creditors are much more concerned with your present circumstances than what your circumstances were years ago. Even if you have filed for bankruptcy, it is possible to rebuild your credit and have an A-rated credit report within 2 years bankruptcy.

Q:  How Do I Get Collectors Off My Back?

A:  There are strict limitations to what bill collectors can do. If they are being deceptive or harassing, you can sue them in civil court. Collectors can only call you between 8AM and 9PM, cannot contact you at your place of employment, cannot make false or abusive statements and cannot contact your family or friends to collect your debt. If collectors are harassing you, you should immediately write a "Cease and Desist Letter", telling them to stop calling you, and to stop any further communication with you. Send this letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. By federal law, they must stop contacting you with the exception of a letter stating that their collection efforts have ended, or the collection agency intends to sue you.