There is undoubtedly a lot going through your mind during a divorce, such as major concerns regarding the total time and cost of the process or how much you will get to see your kids after it’s over.
With all of the serious issues at stake, it is easy to understand why some of the seemingly minor matters end up slipping through the cracks.
One of these common concerns that many guys do not consider while a divorce is proceeding is what will happen to their credit after the divorce is finalized.
While it may not appear to be a pressing matter with everything else you have on your plate, the fact of the matter is that divorce frequently devastates your financial security for years to come.
Because of the fiscal uncertainty divorce creates, it is important to take precautions to minimize the effect it will have on your credit rating.
Here are a few simple tips to help you escape your divorce with as little harm to your credit as possible.
Order credit reports
The first and most obvious step you should do is order a credit report from at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion and Experian). This will list debts attached to your name, both individually and jointly with your spouse.
Carefully go through your report to ensure there are no discrepancies, such as credit lines in your name that you did not authorize. Your attorney will also want a copy of your report, so ordering one ahead of time can help you spot any potential problems early in the process.
You can obtain one free credit report per year from each bureau through annualcreditreport.com, though you definitely want an updated report regardless of whether you have to pay a little for it or not.
Separate & freeze joint accounts
Once you are aware of all accounts held jointly between you and your spouse, you should attempt to separate them as best you can.
This can be accomplished by paying those debts off in their entirety, transferring the balance to a card held solely be either you or your spouse, or at the very least, placing a freeze on those accounts to prevent future charges from being incurred.
However, be sure to consult an attorney before freezing or transferring jointly-held credit card debt, as there may be legal ramifications if that is the primary card your spouse uses to pay for groceries, bills, gas, etc.
Additionally, the division of debt is often a part of the divorce process similar to the separation of assets, so you do not want to voluntarily take on debt that might otherwise have been assigned to your spouse.
Remove authorized users
Credit cards typically permit non-joint accounts to include additional authorized users who are allowed to utilize the card, but are not responsible for repayment.
This obviously throws up an immediate red flag for potential trouble, as a bitter spouse could potentially run up the balance on a card they do not have the responsibility to repay.
If your wife is listed as an authorized user on any of your credit cards, call the issuing company and request that she is removed immediately to prevent her from racking up charges on a card held in your name.
You should also request to be removed as an authorized user from any of your spouse’s cards, because it is possible for those accounts to show up on your credit report and potentially impact your credit should she miss any payments.
It may be a good idea to invest in a credit monitoring service before and after divorce as an added protection measure to help keep an eye on any activity associated with your credit.
For a fairly inexpensive fee, enrolling in credit monitoring can help protect you against identity theft, such as your spouse opening new credit lines in your name.
You will receive regular updates on your credit score, as well as any changes that show up on your report, allowing early identification of any discrepancies to prevent your soon-to-be ex from exploiting her knowledge of your personal information.
There are many credit monitoring services available with varying plan options that range from less than $10 per month to around $25 per month. Some of the top rated include Identity Guard, Lifelock and Identity Force.
Refinance whenever possible
One of the biggest hurdles during divorce negotiations revolves around major assets, such as mortgages and vehicles.
While a divorce may award a home or vehicle to one spouse, that alone does not remove the responsibility for repayment if your name is on the loan — creditors can still come after you if your ex is awarded the home and she falls behind on mortgage payments.
For this reason, it is crucial that you try to have any joint loans refinanced to remove your name from any debts awarded to your ex so your credit will not take any hits should she run into financial trouble years down the line.
Even though it can often be challenging to refinance mortgages or car loans from dual- to single-income ownership, the potential credit problems associated with remaining liable mean you should do everything in your power to get your name off of any major debts.
Know how much debt you can take on
Budgeting is a valuable life skill in general, but during divorce, it becomes even more important to know how much money you have and where it’s going.
Divorce inherently wreaks havoc on your finances, as you must learn to cope with the transition to a single-income household — not to mention court / attorney fees and possibly support payments to your ex.
While you are go through this fiscally uncertain time, finding ways to cut expenses from your budget becomes increasingly important for several reasons. For example, you must understand where you stand financially before agreeing to keep the home or taking on a large car payment.
It is important to realize how much debt you are realistically able to handle given your new financial circumstances, so create and maintain an accurate budget to determine how much (or little) expendable income you have at your disposal.
Include provisions in your settlement
Finally, use your divorce decree as an official means of protecting yourself in the future.
When your settlement agreement is drafted, you should ensure your attorney includes conditions to help shield you from potential credit damage after the divorce is finalized.
For instance, if your spouse is awarded the home in the divorce, you can include a provision that states the home must be refinanced within two years; otherwise, it must be placed on the market and sold.
This not only ensures that your ex is given ample time to remove your name from the loan, but also includes a fallback option if she is unable to do so.
Additionally, the provision allows you to take your ex back to court for contempt if she fails to comply.
Going from a dual- to single-income household on top of potential support obligations can be difficult for anyone to handle, which is why it is crucial to avoid compounding post-divorce financial challenges with damaged credit.
Although you may not be able to prevent your credit score from dipping after divorce, you can take relatively simple steps to minimize the damage and keep your credit in good shape.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”