Not every lender or creditor reports to the credit bureaus, so you still may miss some accounts. One spouse forgot about a line of credit she had with her dentist until her ex-husband spent $5,000 on dental work one afternoon, says Laura Creamer, a financial education specialist with CredAbility.
"He was an authorized user on that account, so she had to pay it off," Creamer says.
3. Remove each other as authorized users
Check your credit report and note every credit card that lists your spouse as an authorized user, which means your spouse is not responsible for repaying any debts incurred but is able to charge on the account. It's easy to remove an authorized user from your credit card. Simply call the credit card issuer and ask that your spouse's name be removed.
It's just as important that you get removed as an authorized user from your spouse's credit card accounts, because they can still be included on your credit report as well as factored into your credit score, says Barry Paperno, the consumer operations manager for myFICO.
However, credit-reporting bureau Experian says it includes authorized user accounts on its credit reports only if the history is positive.
You should be able to contact the credit card issuer yourself and have your name removed if your spouse refuses to do it. If the credit card issuer doesn't allow it, contact the credit-reporting bureaus and dispute the inclusion of the account on your credit report, Paperno says.
4. Untangle joint accounts if possible
The task of separating joint accounts where both spouses are responsible is more complicated.
"Many people don't understand that a divorce decree doesn't change the contract you have with your lender," says Rod Griffin, the director of public education at Experian. "The only way to remove yourself (from a joint account) is going through the lender."
Griffin recommends paying off any joint accounts and closing them before proceding with the divorce. If that's not possible, try to turn joint accounts into individual ones. For example, transfer the balance from one credit card to another that is in one spouse's name only, and close the joint account. Or try to refinance the mortgage in just one spouse's name.
If you can't split the accounts, divide the responsibilities of the joint debt. The person who lives in the house takes on the mortgage. The spouse who gets the car gets the auto loan, too. Spell out the arrangements in the divorce agreement. Include what-if scenarios to protect yourself. For instance, if your spouse is going to miss a payment on joint debt, he or she must notify you in advance, so you can make the payment and avoid denting your credit.
5. Keep tabs on joint accounts
Ask your lender to send you a copy of all joint account statements each month, even if your spouse is responsible for making payments on the account. Some may do it automatically, while others may allow access to account records online.
In addition, pull your free credit report from a different credit-reporting bureau every four months to make sure all accounts are being paid on time, says Estes. Under federal law, you're entitled to request a free credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus every 12 months, through AnnualCreditReport.com.
If your spouse isn't making the agreed-upon payments on the joint accounts, contact your divorce attorney right away. The court will likely make your spouse pay any legal fees if the creditor comes after you, along with reimbursement of any other out-of-pocket expenses, says Mark Baer, a family law attorney in California.
"It's a very risky situation," says Baer. "There's no good way around it."
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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
As long as alimony is legal, someone will get screwed, big time. My drunk ex-wife is forcing me and my boy out of our house, because I'm ordered to pay her $1,300 a month. That's my penalty for letting her stay home for 10 years. What a dope! Marriage is for losers, guys. Until alimony is ruled unconstitutional, which it is, any one who supports their spouse is a sitting duck for disaster.
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