Eric S. Neumann, APLC
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Credit scores may be divorce casualty

Ending a marriage makes couples deal with difficult issues, such as property division, custody and child and spousal support. The aftermath of a divorce may also lower credit scores.

Marital status itself, however, does not impact a person's credit. It is not mentioned on credit reports and does not influence credit scores. Women are also protected under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prevents lenders from using credit scoring systems which discriminate because of gender, age, race and religion.

But credit scores may still drop. Creditors do not honor divorce decrees that divide assets and debts. A judge may order one spouse to pay a joint credit obligation. If that spouse does not pay this debt, however, the other spouse's credit score may drop. Joint accounts may also remain on both spouses' credit reports. Divorce does not terminate these joint accounts or take them off credit reports. Lenders still expect both spouses to pay back money that was borrowed and interest.

These accounts will also stay on credit reports regardless of any decree. If the spouse responsible for the debt under the decree does not pay it on time, the late payment will be reflected on the other spouse's credit report and harm their credit. Separating credit obligations incurred during marriage may be complicated, but can help prevent these problems. First, joint credit cards should be closed, and the other spouse should be removed as a user on credit cards opened in their spouse's name.

Credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies need to be frozen. This helps prevent a spiteful ex-spouse from opening fraudulent accounts in their spouse's name. Finally, spouses should cooperate and separate joint accounts when they can. If there is a joint mortgage, the spouse keeping the home should refinance the mortgage only in their name. Also, major assets, such as their home or vehicles, could be sold, and the profits used to pay off other joint debts.

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