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Ask Dr. Don

Divorce & credit

Dear Dr. Don,
My credit rating is in the dumps because of my soon-to-be ex-husband. Is there a way to fix my rating now without having to wait for the final divorce papers to be signed?
Susan Solong

Dear Susan,
You can't fix your rating overnight, but you can take steps to stop the situation from getting any worse. Start by getting a copy of your credit report. It will show the credit accounts where you are an authorized user, a joint account holder or an individual account holder.

In community-property states married couples are, in general, jointly responsible for the debts they take on during their marriage. The community-property states are: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. In these states the distinction between authorized user, joint and individual accounts isn't particularly relevant to your obligations for repaying the debt.

You can ask but you can't force a creditor to change a joint account to an individual account. They extended you credit with the provision that you would both be responsible parties and a divorce decree doesn't change the credit agreement.

Keep paying on time and at least the minimum payment on any account where you share responsibility for that credit. An account has to have a zero balance to be permanently closed, but the primary account holder can ask the creditor to close the account to new purchases.

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If he's an authorized user on any account where you are the primary account holder, ask the creditor to remove his name as an authorized user. If they won't do that, then either close the account or ask that the account be closed to new purchases.

The Federal Trade Commissions guide, Credit and Divorce, states: "By law, a creditor cannot close a joint account because of a change in marital status, but can do so at the request of either spouse. A creditor, however, does not have to change joint accounts to individual accounts.

"The creditor can require you to reapply for credit on an individual basis and then, based on your new application, extend or deny you credit. In the case of a mortgage or home equity loan, a lender is likely to require refinancing to remove a spouse from the obligation."

-- Posted: May 21, 2002

Read more Dr. Don columns here
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See Also
Dealing with credit in a divorce
Repairing credit destroyed in a divorce
More Dr. Don stories

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