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Expert Q&A Archive

01/25/2008
How do I clean up my credit after a divorce?
I have recently been thru a divorce, and I was advised to send a letter of financial responsibility to the credit bureau, in order to separate my credit from my ex-husband.

Do you have a sample letter that I might be able to use as a base? Or how would you recommend me to address this issue to clean up my credit by separating it from my ex-husbandís credit?

I would appreciate your assistance with this as is of most importance to me.
Gerri Detweiler:
expert info »
Thanks again for the opportunity to answer!

Divorce is very difficult and can affect your credit for years to come, so you are smart to be proactive in trying to protect it. You cannot, however, "separate" your credit reports because you and your ex-spouse do not have joint credit reports. You each have your own credit reports, but any accounts you hold jointly will appear on both of your reports. If you don't have any joint accounts, then you don't need to do anything. Just check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure none of his individual accounts are being reported incorrectly on your reports.

More likely though, you have some accounts you both took out together. When you did, you agreed to both be responsible for them. Your divorce decree does not change those agreements with your creditors; it is simply an agreement between you and your spouse with regard to how both of you will handle those debts.

Here are some tips for dealing with the various accounts you may hold with your ex:

Regular bills: During your divorce, you may be busy or overwhelmed. Bills may fall through the cracks, or your ex-spouse may not pay bills he or she normally takes care of. Late payments remain on your credit for seven years, so itís important to do your best to avoid any late payments that may be reported on your credit report. Make a list of all your debts, including your joint debts. If you cannot make the full payments, talk to your creditors or service providers as soon as possible to make other arrangements.

Joint accounts: When you cosign for a loan, or take out a joint account, you agree to be responsible for the entire balance if the other person doesnít pay. When you divorce, your divorce decree may specify that your spouse will pay some of your joint accounts. Until those accounts are paid in full, however, the creditor may still be able to seek payment from you. In addition, any accurate, negative information about the account will remain on your credit report for seven years.

To protect yourself, it is a good idea for both you and your ex to refinance or pay off any joint accounts. At a minimum it can be helpful to close joint accounts from future charges, but keep in mind that you both may remain responsible for any existing balances. If your ex cannot pay off or refinance joint accounts, youíll want to monitor the account to make sure those loans are paid on time. If they are not, talk with your attorney immediately. If possible, you may have to make the payments to protect your credit.

Mortgages: It is not unusual for one spouse to continue to live in the family home and to continue to make the monthly payments. If the mortgage was in both your names, however, it will likely be listed on each personís credit report, and that debt can affect your credit even if itís paid on time. If possible, refinance the mortgage in the name of the spouse who will continue living there.

If you live in a community property state, you may be responsible for any debts incurred by your spouse after you married. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin are community property states. Check with your attorney to make sure you understand your obligations.
 

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