When working with people that are contemplating or going through divorce, I am often asked the question, “What can I do to preserve my credit through the divorce process?” My answer to them is to be pro-active. I have come up with four actions you can take now to make sure you control and preserve your credit through the difficult divorce process.
Step 1: Pull your individual credit report through http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
This is a free service and provides you with a starting point to figure out what needs to be done next. Go through the report and highlight all the accounts that are joint with your spouse. Get very familiar with the accounts by knowing the exact balances, credit history, credit limits and monthly payments. This could be an eye opener or maybe you are already familiar. Either way, it is important to know what is outstanding so that you can have the courts determine who will be responsible for what debts.
There is a big difference between a ‘joint’ account and ‘authorized signor’. A joint account is an account that you are equally obligated on with your spouse. It is more difficult to get you or your spouse removed from this type of account. An authorized signor means that you are authorized to make purchases on the account, but are not, legally, bound or obligated to pay. Most of the time , you can get your name removed from this account because you are not a legally obligated party to the account.
Step 2: Close all joint accounts so that nothing more can be charged. This can be, temporarily, detrimental to your credit score. But, the idea here is to stop the bleeding if your spouse has a spending problem. It limits the amount of debt to be divided in the divorce as well.
If joint accounts are all you have for credit, this can be an issue. The age and credit history of an account makes up a large portion of your credit score. If you have a joint account that has been opened for 10 years and it is one that needs to be closed, it will hurt your credit score.
So, what do you do if all you have is joint credit? Some time, not always, a creditor will be willing to remove a spouse from the account, if the account is in good standing and a zero balance. If you are unable to pay off the account, prior to this phone call, you may have to declare who is responsible in the decree and begin the rebuild process. In general, you will need three open accounts in good standing for a new mortgage. Since you need a six month history of receiving alimony and child support to be able to use in qualifying anyway, you might as well use that time to rebuild your individual credit as well. Before you go closing a bunch of accounts, please call me first to discuss your best options.
Step 3: Open new accounts in your name only. Don’t go crazy, it is not an excuse to apply for credit and go on a spending spree. The initial pull from the creditor and the new open account will hurt your score initially. Remember to keep the balance at 20% of the limit or less at all times. After about six months of responsible charging and paying off of the account, you will see your score increase quickly. Again, it is a good idea to do this early in the process so that you have some time to establish new credit while you are receiving the required six months of alimony or child support for the mortgage income qualification.
Step 4: Open a Credit Karma account to continue to monitor your credit regularly. You can do this through www.creditkarma.com or download the app for Apple ios or google play store. Believe it or not, I had a client, whose ex-husband opened several new accounts under her social security number without her knowledge. She was able to cancel the card and report the fraud immediately to the credit bureaus and, eventually, got them removed. This process does not happen over night. But, the first step is catching it before it is too late.
If you notice that you have incorrect reporting or fraud on your account, you should report it to all 3 credit bureaus immediately. First, you have to get your free report, then you can contact each agency that is reporting the information, incorrectly at www.experian.com, www.transunion.com and www.equifax.com.
I have been analyzing client’s credit reports for over 20 years now and have seen a lot of different, crazy, weird and unexplainable reporting. The best way to prevent mistakes and fraud, is to stay on top of it. If you are confused by what you are reading or feel you need help reading or fixing something on your report, I am happy to take a look and get you on the path to recovery and re-establishing new credit history. You can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me directly at 303-549-0891.
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