In the unfortunate event that you get a divorce, worrying about your credit score may be the last thing on your mind. However, even during the most trying times of our lives, the world keeps spinning and the fact is, divorce can greatly impact your finances and credit history. With close to 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, and divorce finalization taking close to 1 year to complete, protecting your credit along the way is critical to your financial future.
Below are some helpful tips on how to get thru a divorce without damaging your credit.
- Assess your responsibilities: Look at every financial obligation you and your spouse currently have, either jointly or solely. Assess which ones will be the responsibility of each spouse and create a budget accordingly.
- Dissolve ALL Joint Accounts: One of the biggest misunderstandings about divorce is that if the divorce decree says certain accounts are the responsibility of your (soon to be) ex-spouse’s, this automatically means you are no longer liable. Courts can assign responsibility, but they cannot release liability. If you have a joint account, such as a mortgage, HELOC, credit card, etc by law you are BOTH responsible. This is where so many recent divorcees get into financial trouble. They assume the other party is making the payments (as declared in the divorce decree), only to find out later they didn’t, or filed bankruptcy, or had a foreclosure, all which is now damaging YOUR credit score!
- Sell You House: Most mortgages are joint accounts, so selling or refinancing solely in the spouse’s that will resume ownership of the home. By selling the house early, you can go ahead and split any monies made from the sale.
- Divide any and all combined cash: This includes all checking and savings accounts. With regard to pensions, 401K’s etc it is best to seek the advice of a certified financial planner.
- Document everything and store in a safe place: Divorces can get contentious, especially when lines get blurred. Keep everything in case you have to prove anything later.
After the divorce is final make sure you to do the following:
Check all 3 credit reports: Make sure everything is reporting accurately. You name change, new address, etc. You also want to confirm all of the previous joint accounts have been closed and no longer accessible by your spouse. Also be aware of any new credit lines your spouse may have opened in your name without your knowledge. If you notice any inaccuracies, quickly file a dispute with each bureau, so they can quickly update and correct your credit file. Please check out the MCMF credit dispute template letter with all bureau contact information http://www.mcmf.net/MCMF_EXCEL_FILES/Sample%20Dispute%20Letter.pdf
Notify creditors of the divorce: Contact each creditor on your credit report and alert them of any changes to your accounts, such as name changes, address changes and dissolution of any joint status. Confirm your spouse no longer has access to any of your accounts.
Change passwords: This is one that is typically forgotten, but after a divorce changing all of your passwords is critical to protect from potential fraudulent use by your ex-spouse. This includes passwords on your checking, savings, credit cards, even cell phone. Start fresh, change them all!
Protect your identity: As a precautionary measure it may be a good idea to do a one year ID protection plan that alerts you to any suspicious credit activity, etc. For a small fee this will provide an even greater sense of security.
Going thru a divorce can wreak havoc on your credit, but by taking the measure to follow these tips you should be able to get thru it with very little credit damage.