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6 steps to dealing with credit during a divorce

by Barbara Marquand

Credit cards probably aren't top of mind if you're contemplating divorce, but it pays to give them some thought now to avoid financial hardship later.

Here are 6 steps you should take to protect your credit history:

1. Collect credit card information.

Collect information about all your financial accounts, including credit card statements and phone numbers of your credit card companies, before you pursue a divorce, advises the Consolidated Credit Counseling Services Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

2. Know your credit card paying responsibilities.

To creditors, both you and your spouse are responsible for paying off your jointly held credit cards, no matter what the divorce decree says. Say, for instance, the decree orders your spouse to pay off the credit card bills, but your spouse never sends the checks. Don't be surprised when the credit card companies call you to pay them. Creditors aren't part of the divorce decree; they just want their money. Even though the decree says your spouse is supposed to pay the bills, you still bear responsibility, too, and your credit score can suffer from missed payments.

3. Protect your credit history.

Make sure the credit card bills are paid. Ask the credit card company to send you duplicate statements if your spouse is responsible for paying the bills, advises the National Endowment for Financial Education, or monitor the account online to make sure the bills are paid on time.

4. Close joint credit card accounts.

Contact credit card companies to close joint accounts and get confirmation in writing that the accounts are closed. Another option is to ask the credit card company to convert a joint account to an individual account in your name. Keep in mind that creditors might require you to apply for a new individual account, rather than converting a joint account.

5. Remove spouse as authorized credit card user.

Ask that your ex-spouse be removed as an authorized user on any individual account in your name, and ask that you be removed as an authorized user on any of your ex-spouse's accounts.

6. Apply for credit cards in your own name.

Shop around for the best credit card deals and get an account or two in your own name. Pay your bills on time, and keep your balances below 30 percent of the credit limits to protect your credit score.

Divorce is challenging enough without credit missteps to take you down a tough financial road. Tend to your credit card accounts to protect your credit history and build toward a solid financial future.

Published 11/29/12 (Modified 07/09/14)

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