No one ever said divorce would be easy, especially when it comes to your finances. But if you’re contemplating a break, hired an attorney or just got served papers, managing your credit should be of utmost importance to you. Your finances, like your personal situation, are going to change, and you’ll need to protect them to secure your financial future.
New research from two University of Washington sociologists shows that divorce-filing rates peak in August, right after summer vacations. Their research was based on analysis of divorce filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015. To help you get through this uncertain time, we reached out to John C. Heath, a credit expert and consumer attorney for Lexington Law, which is affiliated with Credit.com. Here are some of the things he said to keep in mind credit-wise as your case wends its way through divorce court.
1. Pull Your Credit Reports
“You’ll want to pull your credit reports and take a look at what’s on them,” says Heath, because there’s a chance you may have joint credit accounts with your soon-to-be ex-spouse that you aren’t aware of, or worse, you’ve been put on accounts without your spouse telling you. If either of those are the case, you’ll want to make sure to address it, whether that means putting the account on ice until things are settled, deciding on who will take what responsibility or having your ex-spouse or yourself removed from the account.
You’ll also want to check your report for any errors, as these can sometimes lower your score, making it hard to secure new lines of credit. (You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here and view a summary of your credit report, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
2. Avoid Taking Out New Lines of Credit
“One other thing you won’t want to do is take out any additional credit,” Heath says, because it may wind up affecting your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s credit file. For instance, if you’ve co-signed on a loan for your spouse and decide to apply for a travel rewards card, you could overextend your finances, making it harder to pay for the loan. If you fall behind on payments, or worse still, default, this could impact your spouse’s credit. Taking on more debt than you can handle could also exacerbate an already tense situation where you’re juggling attorneys’ bills with daily expenses.
3. Draft a Budget
Tough as it is, accepting and adjusting to your new financial reality is a must if you want to move forward, says Heath. “You’re going to be entering a time where, if you had a joint account, that money is no longer available to you,” he says.
Your situation may change in other ways as well. For this reason, it’s important to have your own funds set aside, so you can pay bills on time, and in full, without worrying. With things at home changing, you’ll also want to make sure you’re able to afford what you need to get by, be it a car, a home, student loans or anything else.
With your credit in solid shape, you’ll be able to finance an auto loan, a mortgage or whatever other type of loan is necessary for starting your new life.