Can a Debt Collector Tell Your Spouse About Your Old Credit Card Debt?

Sometimes, waiting to take action can save you from needing to do anything. A nagging problem (a backache, for example) may resolve itself if you’re lucky. Other times, ignoring it is courting disaster (think leaky roof). And sometimes, you just want to solve a problem yourself, without involving other people.

That last scenario was the case with a reader who hadn’t told her husband about some credit card debt. She had acquired the credit card when she was single, and it was in her name only (not a joint account). As such, it does not affect her husband’s credit. But the card has gone to collections now, and she has a big question:

Are debt collectors allowed to call and discuss my credit card debt with my spouse even though he is not an authorized user and we were not married at the time I opened the card?

Ideally, information such as this is shared before people get married. But because it wasn’t, our reader worried that her husband might learn about it in a phone call from a debt collector. The answer to her question is complex. By federal law, the debt collector can talk to her husband, says Nick Jarman, a contributor and chief operating officer of Delta Outsource Group, a collections company. “On the federal level, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Section 805(d) as it relates to communication in connection with debt collection clearly states that ‘For the purpose of this section, the term “consumer” includes the consumer’s spouse, parent (if the consumer is a minor), guardian, executor, or administrator.’”

Only there is a second part to his answer, and it involves state laws, which are sometimes more restrictive than that. In some cases, her consent would be required before a collector could talk with her husband about the debt. “Debt collectors are trained and made aware of which states require spousal consent along with which are community property states as well,” Jarman said in an email.

Whether the debt collector talks to her husband or not, our reader may be wise to discuss the debt with her husband. Money secrets aren’t good for marriages, and if they apply for credit together for, say, a mortgage, it’s bound to come out. Withholding information can feel like a violation of trust to a spouse who learns he or she has been in the dark about a partner’s financial problem. But telling a spouse you’ve been concealing important information isn’t easy. Assuming our reader feels safe doing so, she should find a way to talk with her spouse about the debt problem (this article has some tips). While he may feel betrayed initially, in many cases couples choose to attack the problem as a team — and we hope that will be the case here.

If you’re wondering how old debts could be affecting your credit, it can be helpful to get your free annual credit reports, and check your credit scores. You can get a free credit report summary updated every 14 days on

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Image: iStock

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