Editor’s Note: I love this guest post by Jay Fleischman because I can totally relate! Keeping my credit in tact while planning for and going through my divorce was top of mind for me. I know that we often talk about doing away with the need for credit but the reality is that when you split you’ll need to get a new place, buy a new car and a host of other transitional needs that some times require credit. So while I hate that we make it a holy grail, it is also something that we need to keep in tact should we ever need to use it.
Divorce is an emotionally difficult time, fraught with seemingly-endless complexities. Once the dust settles and you’re finally able to move on, the last thing you need is credit troubles holding you down.
According to the U.S. Census, 23 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother in 2011. Without a regular source of income, it’s nearly impossible to establish good credit without relying on your spouse.
Thankfully, it’s not impossible to build excellent credit after divorce – even if you haven’t had credit or worked outside of the home in years. All you need to do is follow these 7 simple steps.
- Get A Copy Of Your Credit Report. If you’re like most people, you have no idea what your credit report says about you. Remedy this by getting a copy of your credit report with your credit score. It will tell you if there are any outstanding debts in your name, and whether they’ve been paid on time. As a side benefit, it will also tell you if there are any accounts out there that you may not know about.
- Correct Any Errors. Statistics indicate that 80% of Americans have errors on their credit reports. Those errors range from incorrect addresses and employers to wrong payment histories and account information. Go through your reports carefully and dispute the errors directly with the credit reporting agencies. Doing so will help raise your credit score and set the record straight.
- Get A Financial Divorce. Lots of married couples have joint debts, ranging from credit cards to car loans and mortgages. As part of your divorce, you may have agreed that your ex would be responsible for some of those obligations.In order for a creditor to release you from the obligation to repay a debt, that creditor must formally agree to do so. It isn’t enough that a judge decides which one of you is liable because the creditor wasn’t a party to the divorce proceedings. Work with your ex and the creditor to get your name off all of those accounts. If that fails, force your ex to get a new loan to repay the joint obligation – then close that account down.
- Get A Job. Nothing makes a potential creditor feel more secure than knowing you’ve got the ability to make payments. And nothing reflects the ability to make payments better than a job. Not a volunteer position, not helping out a friend. A real, verifiable place of employment with a paycheck.
- Apply For A Retailer’s Store Card. Getting a credit card from a retailer you frequent will give you a jump-start on new, good credit. You may not have a high credit limit, but that’s OK – you’re doing this to build a good credit score, not to rack up a bunch of debt. Remember that any spousal support you’re getting counts as income for the purpose of getting credit, which will boost your ability to get approved.Many credit professionals will recommend that you get a secured credit card (one that requires you to make a deposit with a bank in exchange for a credit card) but that’s useful only in the event that a retailer’s store card is out of reach. If you absolutely must get such a card make sure the lender reports payment information to the credit reporting agencies. You also need to know the terms under which the lender will release your security deposit.
- Pay Your Bills On Time. A large part of your credit score is comprised of your recent payment history. Paying your outstanding credit obligations on time, every month, will help raise your score.
- Stay Put. Your credit report reflects your home address, and the length of time you’ve lived in each place. The more you move around, the less stable you appear to a potential creditor. Putting down some roots will help raise your credit score.
In my experience, credit scores tend to rise over a period of 18-24 months. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Take your time, keep taking care of yourself and your finances, and your credit score will rise soon enough.
Jay S. Fleischman is a bankruptcy lawyer in Los Angeles who also focuses his practice on helping his clients regain their credit standing after financial and personal difficulties. Follow him on Twitter for more information on credit, debt, and finding solutions to bill problems.