By Shawn Leamon
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Going through a divorce is stressful enough without having to worry about how it could affect your credit. Unfortunately, there are many ways a divorce can have a negative impact on your credit, which could lead to difficulty getting approved for a line of credit, a new mortgage or an apartment rental. By understanding three of the most common risks and how to protect yourself, you’ll be in a better financial position once your divorce is finalized.
1. Divorce-related costs
Going through a divorce doesn’t just wreak havoc on the emotions, but on the pocketbook as well. Hiring a divorce lawyer, going through a long and complex custody dispute, and other common aspects of divorce can easily cost you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Charging certain expenses (such as your attorney fees) to a credit card can increase your credit utilization, which can result in a hit to your credit.
2. Failure to make payments
As a result of those costs, you may find it difficult to keep up to date on your financial obligations, such as a mortgage, utilities and car payments. Failure to pay on these on time can harm your credit score. Furthermore, you and your spouse likely combined several accounts when you got married. You may share a mortgage, credit cards and other forms of debt. Throughout the divorce, you will still be responsible for paying off debt on a joint account, but there may be confusion as to who is responsible for what. Or, if your former partner is feeling vindictive, he or she may intentionally fail to make necessary payments, which could affect both of your credit scores.
3. Running up debt
In the event of a divorce that is not amicable, it’s not uncommon for a soon-to-be ex to take advantage of the fact that he or she has authorization to use your credit card or access your bank accounts. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if your spouse decides to start taking out money or amassing credit card debt without your knowledge. If you’re not careful to monitor your bank activity, you could end up with hundreds or thousands of dollars of debt that you will be responsible for paying off. Failure to do so puts your credit score at risk.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from these common occurrences. For starters, once it’s established that you’ll be getting a divorce, separate all joint accounts as soon as possible. Remove authorization for your spouse on any accounts that belong solely to you, and work out an agreement (in writing) to handle any joint debt payments. If needed, sell off some assets of your own or reach an agreement to sell joint assets to help pay for the legal costs associated with the divorce.
By taking these steps, you may be able to keep your credit score from becoming a casualty of your divorce.
Shawn Leamon is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money” podcast and managing partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.