Allocating assets and liabilities between spouses is one of the financial pillars in any divorce. In my work as a financial neutral and also when working on behalf of an individual in a divorce the subject of credit card debt is often a topic that needs to be addressed. This is especially true when credit card balances are not paid in full each month.
The usual credit card ownership arrangements are joint or individual. There is another form of credit card ownership when one spouse is the primary account holder and the other spouse is an authorized user. In this situation, both spouses have a card on the same account issued in their individual name.
The thorny part of this is the primary account holder controls the decision-making authority relative to the account. The primary account holder can close the account. The authorized user generally is not able to close the account. However if the primary account holder defaults on the account the card issuer will seek payment from the authorized user. Does not seem quite right, does it? As an authorized user, you are unable to close the account yet if the primary account holder does not make payments, the authorized user can be liable for payment. What can you do to protect yourself?
Here are 5 suggestions:
- First, run a credit report on yourself from all three major credit-reporting agencies. These agencies include Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The best place to obtain this report is from www.annualcreditreport.com . Your report is free from this site and they will not solicit you for other purchases with one exception. Please note these reports do not include your credit score. You can obtain your score if you like for a nominal fee.
- Once you have the report from each of the three reporting agencies review all three reports carefully. The report will tell you if you own the card jointly, individually, or if you are an authorized user. This is a great time to verify the accuracy of all the data contained in the report.
- If you have a card issued in your name that for some reason does not appear on your credit report, call the issuer to determine your ownership status.
- If you are listed as an authorized user on any credit cards, call the issuer to determine how you can be removed.
- Let your attorney know you want any authorized user status clearly dealt with in your negotiations with your spouse. You do not want this thorny issue sneaking up on you down the road. In collaborative divorces, a well-trained financial neutral and the attorneys representing their clients are well aware of this issue.
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