Chase recently announced that the bank will no longer offer customers the ability to have a joint credit card. While it might make sense to couples to open a shared account, it can actually make matters more difficult during a divorce.
The key issue with a joint account is liability. Joint cardholders will equally be liable for the amount owed on the card if they split up, regardless of who racked up the bills. Having separate credit card accounts leaves little question as to who is responsible for paying the debt.
Another option still being offered by Chase is for a customer to open an individual account and authorize certain people to use the card for purchases. Liability is different for people who open a card and have authorized users.
If you have a credit card and your spouse is authorized to buy items with it, you will be entirely responsible for the bill even if he or she charged thousands of dollars on it and you only spent $100. That can make a divorce messy because few clients actually want to pay for purchases that they never made. Credit scores may take a hit if the account holder is unable to make payments, because the debt will show on both of your credit reports.
If you are starting the divorce process, it’s crucial to talk to your attorney about how your family credit cards will be handled in the divorce settlement. The best-case scenario would be to pay off the debt or divide it with your spouse in the settlement.
But dividing it is not a foolproof method because there’s no guarantee that your spouse will make his or her payments on time, and your credit score is still at risk. It can take years for an unpaid debt to be wiped from your credit report. That can affect everything from your ability to get another card to making even larger purchases, such as a home or car.
There are several ways you may approach the issue of paying off a joint debt. You might agree to pay off the cards in exchange for something else during the asset division process. Or you might agree to use marital funds to pay off the cards rather than deciding to share the responsibility with your soon-to-be ex. That allows you to regain sole control of your money and credit rating instead of relying on your partner’s promise to fulfill all obligations in the divorce settlement.
If you and your spouse have gone through a separation but are still married, now is the time to start untying yourself from all joint debts. Make a note of the date you separated. Cancel any joint credit cards immediately. Remove your spouse’s name as an authorized user on all cards. Keep records and share all of your financial information and possible anomalies with a financial adviser or your divorce attorney.
Keep in mind that your credit headaches may not be over just because you took your name off a joint account. Even if debt was assigned to your spouse in the divorce agreement, a credit card company could come after you even if your name is long gone from the account. That’s because credit card companies are not bound by any court order. They will go after any person they can for missed payments, and if you were once a joint cardholder or authorized user, that could unfortunately be you.