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Divorce often changes everything, especially your financial situation.  And unless you were the ex-wife of Michael Jordan ($150 million settlement), Steven Spielberg ($100 million settlement), or the recently divorced Heather Mills ($80 million settlement), you may be feeling the financial fallout of living on less money.

As if divorce isn't enough of a kick in the pants, you also have to be alert to what could happen if your former "love bird" turns into a vulture post-divorce.

When it comes to outstanding balances on credit — even when it's part of your divorce decree that your ex is responsible for making payments if your accounts are jointly owned — you are still legally responsible for payment when your name appears as a co-signer on the account...regardless of what the court says.

How can this be? Well, when you applied for joint credit, you both assumed repayment responsibility. And because of that assumption of debt, the responsibility will not simply be wiped away because you are no longer married.

No one knows you better than your ex; most often they have access to your favorite passwords, your account numbers, driver's license, and even social security numbers — all the pertinent information necessary to assume your identity and wreak havoc on your credit score.

So as soon as you begin the separation process, and most certainly when divorce is inevitable, you must protect yourself by:

• Getting a fraud shield put on your social security number - this is a service that you can get from the three major credit reporting agencies which will alert you via phone or mail if anyone is attempting to get credit in your name - including you.

• What this means is a credit application will not be reviewed or approved unless you have given verbal authorization to do so. If you are not reachable by phone, they will attempt to contact you again with a 24-hour period. If they are not able to get your authorization verbally, a letter will be sent for you to respond to.

• You also want to close any accounts that you jointly hold. It's not good enough to just have the divorce decree, and most credit cards or joint accounts will not allow you to simply remove your name from the account when you are no longer together.

Even if things are friendly between you and your ex, this is a step you don't want to skip because your credit score (the 3-digit number that's tied to just about everything these days) could still be negatively impacted if your information remains connected to his. Here's why:

• Your ex could request a credit line increase and not have to get permission from you

• Your ex could miss a payment or two thinking its not a big deal

• Your ex could make modifications to the account

• Your ex could stop paying the bill

All of these scenarios are financially dangerous because your credit score is based on 5 factors, which break down as follows:

1. Payment history accounts for approximately 35% of your credit score.

2. Current debt level accounts for 30% of your credit score.

3. How long you've had credit accounts for 15% of your credit score.

4. How often you apply for credit accounts for 10% of your credit score.

5. Types of credit you have (also known as your "credit mix") makes up the remaining 10% of your credit score.

Because the change in your financial status may have lowered your credit score, you want to also consider taking the following action to get back on solid financial ground:

1. Apply for a secured credit card which will allow you to build credit in your own name by securing a set dollar amount with the credit card company (btwn $500-$1000) and as you use and pay on-time-over-time they will increase your limit. Two resources are Choose Credit Wisely and Credit.com.

2. Get a no-strings-attached copy of your credit report from Annual Credit Report. You are entitled to one copy per calendar year from ALL 3 credit reporting agencies. Plus, if you are denied credit (in writing), you can get a complimentary copy of your credit report for up to 60 days after the denial.

3. If your ex has ruined your credit and opened unauthorized accounts in your name, you may want to consider applying for a new Social Security number so you can rebuild your life and put yourself in position to get a mortgage, purchase a car, and have the flexibility to do other things. If you want to learn more about getting a new SS number and determining if it's right for you visit the FAQ at the ID Theft Center.

4. Since it's important for you to know exactly what your credit report says about you post divorce I strongly recommend you check out Experian. It's a great, low-cost resource that offers you a copy of your credit report, an analysis of your credit situation (with suggestions on how to improve it) and your credit score.

There is no need to feel helpless if your ex has ruined your credit. Follow the steps and suggestions I've provided so you can get reclaim your financial life!

 

Related Content:

How Credit Counseling Works

Q&A On Getting Financially Unstuck Post-Divorce

Click the following to return to the directory for Your Finances and Divorce.

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4 comments

  • Comment Link Broken Thursday, 11 September 2014 00:58 posted by Broken

    There are both males and females that have been screwed without being kissed. I am male, but want to give you a different prospective after a 23 year marriage. I should have divorced at least a decade ago but would not leave my kids with the crazy woman. I have no degrees, but had my craftsman career before I started with her. I was not getting any, but someone else was. She moved out of state with him 2 weeks after the divorce was final. I have to beg my kids to call her on mothers day. I was trying to get us out of the money problems she caused until she pushed me in front of the bus. She decided the way for her to get out of the mess was to set me up and the courts. She was very educated, paid for on my income, but she never worked. She always through it in my face. When I had to work late on OT, she would call and bitch that she and the kids were hungry and I needed to come home to cook dinner, yes I was the battered wife, 6'2" 220# gym rat. Yes I was also the one that cleaned the house, that was foreclosed on. She opened lines of credit I never signed anything and then signed the stuff over to her mother a year before the divorce. She filed for chapter 7 after the divorce and stuck me with $30K in alimony and $20k in chapter 13 bankruptcy payments for 5 years. Alimony is for 10, I am 55. That was 2 1/2 years ago. After taxes, I do not have much; but at least I have my soul again. I do not think this is fair, but this is my life

  • Comment Link ginger finn Thursday, 07 November 2013 15:46 posted by ginger finn

    Really concerned my ex could have, and still using my SS number. We have been divorved over 20 years. Can. Find out how and when he cashed in on my life ins. Policy?

  • Comment Link Guest Saturday, 31 March 2012 06:38 posted by Guest

    My ex began to destroy my: My ex began to destroy my credit before he left the marriage (he hid financial deceptions for years). The biggest blow came after, however. The courts gave the house to him. The specific verbiage stated that he was to refinance to remove my name and assume the payments. If he defaulted, he was to immediately place the house on the market. Well, he did neither. Instead, he disappeared again. I was left owing on a hoe a did not own and could not sell. This is a major oversight of the current divorce laws.
    http://lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com/2012/03/26/marital-treason/

  • Comment Link Guest Tuesday, 07 June 2011 11:26 posted by Guest

    Settlement: What can be done if it have been several years and you have not yet received your divorce settlement that was court ordered ?