These days, credit cards are often considered “safer” than carrying large amounts of cash around. If someone’s wallet is stolen and they have hundreds of dollars in cash in the wallet, they can kiss it goodbye, but if a credit card is stolen, if they call their credit card company right away, they have zero liability and won’t be held responsible for any purchases made by the thief.
Since most people use credit cards daily, it’s understandable why most, if not all of our clients have credit cards. Some of our clients pay off their credit cards monthly, while others have a balance that they chip away at each month. Regardless of the amount of credit card debt you currently have, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your FICO score before, during, and after your divorce.
The Joint Credit Card Trap
A lot of married people get joint credit cards together assuming their marriage will last forever. Unfortunately, if you have joint credit cards with your spouse, it’s more difficult to ditch the debt.
Please be aware that in your divorce decree, the judge can order that your spouse pays the $20,000 balance on the Discover Card, but credit card companies are not governed by divorce decrees. So, if your former spouse can’t afford to pay the debt, or if he or she files bankruptcy, or if they refuse to pay it out of spite, the credit card company can go after you for the full amount, plus interests and penalties. This can wreak havoc on your credit score.
At our divorce firm, we advise clients to end their marriages with zero joint debt. Our clients do this by paying off joint cards with their spouses, canceling the cards, and by dividing up the marital debt on joint cards and transferring it to new credit cards in each spouse’s name.
The ultimate goal is to eliminate your liability for your spouse’s debts. We also recommend taking a good look at your wallet and making sure you have canceled all of your joint credit cards during your divorce.
“For many couples, it becomes an emotional game of, ‘If he — or she — can spend money, I can, too,’ and each of them runs up the credit cards,” says Tina Tessina, author of, “Money, Sex And Kids: Stop Fighting About The Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.” “Ultimately, you can save yourself a huge amount of money if you can work out an agreement about who pays off the cards together.”
Nevada is a Community Property State
In equitable distribution states, spouses are not automatically responsible for debt incurred on credit cards only in one spouse’s name, however, Nevada is a community property state where spouses are equally responsible for all debts incurred during the course of the marriage, regardless of who acquired the debt.
Even still, it’s important to separate the debts and leave a marriage with zero joint debt if possible. This is the surest way to protect your credit in the event your former spouse fails to pay credit cards or files bankruptcy.