Price of love gone bad? $16,000

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Dear Debt Adviser,
A family member recently ended an engagement. Prior to this, she transferred $16,000 of her fiance’s debt to her own credit card, which had a more favorable rate. He is not on the account but doesn’t dispute his ownership of the debt.

The ex-fiance does not qualify for enough credit to transfer the debt to his name. Is there something my family member can do to return the debt to him?
— Patrick

Dear Patrick,
In last week’s column, I addressed a question from a woman who wanted to know if it was OK to co-sign for a credit card for her married daughter. In that column, I observed that because women tend to be the more nurturing gender, they are more susceptible than men to seeing some credit and debt decisions as an extension of a relationship.

This sometimes results in women reaching out with their pocketbooks when perhaps they shouldn’t.

Your family member fits the profile of women I have observed over the years. She appears to have fallen prey to what I discussed in item No. 4 of my list of four things women should be aware of when it comes to their credit. In summary, item No. 4 warned that circumstances can change quickly, putting you in financial danger if you are responsible for another’s debt.

Your family member thought she was making a good decision at the time, believing she was going to marry the person whose debt she acquired. After all, when two people commit to spending their lives together, it’s hard to fault one for trying to help the other.

Still, although a commitment of love may seem to be bond, it’s only a promise, not a marriage “contract.” As your family member found out, circumstances and commitments can change quickly. That is why I recommend that women (and men) never take on anyone else’s debt. If you don’t protect your credit history, who will?

Unfortunately, it’s too late for your family member to turn back the clock. She needs a solution that helps lessen the impact of taking on the ex-fiance’s debt.

For starters, ask the ex-fiance to transfer all the debt he qualifies for into his own name. Do this promptly, before he changes his mind. Both parties should agree on a firm repayment schedule and put it in writing to ensure mutual understanding of their obligations.

Seal the deal with a signature on a piece of paper. I wouldn’t trust a conversation, handshake or hug.

Because the ex-fiance does not qualify for enough credit to take on all of the debt, some joint debt will remain. For this leftover debt, apply for a joint loan or credit card in the names of both your family member and the ex-fiance.

If they decide to open a credit card account, establish the transfer of debt to the card before closing the account to prevent future use. Have the bill sent to both addresses and get a commitment from the ex-fiance to pay the bill until he is able to transfer all of it to his own name.

Your family member will need to keep track of the account online to ensure that the ex-fiance makes payments on time. If he fails to do so, your family member must be ready to step in with a payment that will protect her credit.

Applying for joint credit will ensure that the ex-fiance is considered at least partly responsible for the debt. As it stands now, the debt appears to be hers alone. As the debt is paid down, transfer the remaining balance due to the ex-fiance’s name as soon as possible.

Remember the lesson from this adventure: Never mix up love and a loan!

The Debt Adviser, Steve Bucci, is the president of Money Management International Financial Education Foundation and the author of “Credit Repair Kit for Dummies.” Visit MMI for additional debt advice or to ask a question of the Debt Adviser go to the “Ask the Experts” page and select “debt” as the topic.