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How to Repair and Build Your Credit Identity After Divorce

Dividing up your shared property and finances can be one of the most complex and frustrating parts of a divorce. Most couples' financial lives are heavily entwined, with joint credit cards, shared mortgages, beneficiary relationships, wills and a host of other financial issues that impact their spouses.

One thing that often isn't covered during the division of marital property -- and the division of debt -- is credit. Once you have received your divorce decree and are starting your new life, you may find that there are still issues to be resolved. You will also need to build your separate credit identity.

Here are some common credit issues you may encounter, and how to resolve them:

Make sure you are no longer an authorized user of your spouse's credit card. During your divorce, you probably made decisions about any joint credit cards you had. A lot of people forget that they may have been authorized to use their ex's individual account, however.

The problem with remaining an authorized user is that any delinquency on your spouse's part will be reported on both of your credit histories. Call the credit card company directly and have yourself removed.

Deal with any joint bills your ex isn't paying. If you had joint credit card accounts or were both on the mortgage, the family court probably specified one of you to pay each of those accounts. In the real world, however, people sometimes don't pay those bills.

Many people are surprised to learn that your family court order doesn't release you from the obligation to pay a joint debt. Your creditors still have the right to collect from either of you and report nonpayment to the credit bureau.

If your ex isn't paying a joint debt, consider paying off the balance and getting your ex to pay you back. If you can't afford that, send the credit bureaus a letter explaining the situation, along with a copy of your divorce decree.

Start building a separate credit history. It might take time, but keep trying. If you have no credit cards of your own and can't get one, a store card or an unsecured credit card may be a good place to start. After a year or two of success with that, try for an unsecured card.

Here are a few other basic tips for building and maintaining good credit:

  • Think of a credit card as a payment method, not a loan. Pay off the balance as soon as you receive the bill. Do use the card, though -- putting it in a drawer won't build a credit history.
  • Don't get lots and lots of credit cards. One factor in your credit score is how much open credit you have. Creditors see too much as a risk.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. The best way to build good credit is slowly and steadily. Keep making your payments on time, don't exceed your credit limit, use your credit cards responsibly -- those really are the best ways to rebuild your credit after a divorce.

Related Resource:

"Create a separate credit identity after divorce" (To Her Credit blog, CreditCards.com, July 24, 2009)

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