Will bankruptcy scare off future spouse?
A single woman worries that her financial failings will turn men away
To Her Credit
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com
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Dear To Her Credit,
I am currently contemplating Chapter 13 bankruptcy because I
lost my job and have been trying for two years to get a loan modification for
my house in Florida. I was given a sale date and decided to attempt a short
sale, which has proven futile in the past six months.
One of my concerns is that I am single. I would love to be
married. How would this decision affect me in the years to come? Also, how
would it affect my spouse when I do get married? -- Ann
The three factors of high unemployment, falling real estate
prices and Florida's "deficiency judgment" laws together have created
a perfect storm for your finances. If it's any consolation, you have plenty of
As you apparently are aware, Florida is a deficiency
judgment state. That means if your house is sold for less than you owe on it,
your mortgage lender can pursue you for the difference. One way to resolve the
deficiency owed to the mortgage lender is to file for bankruptcy.
Of the two types of bankruptcy available to individuals, you
probably will choose Chapter 7, not Chapter 13
bankruptcy. Boston bankruptcy
attorney Theodore Connolly says, "Chapter 13 bankruptcy would not be an
option because you need a steady income to finance a Chapter 13 bankruptcy
plan. You should consider a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in its place, especially if
you live in a state where you have personal liability for the deficiency on the
sale of the home if the sale price does not cover the mortgage."
Bankruptcy should always be a last resort. If your only debt
is the potential deficiency judgment, I wouldn't file too quickly. Creditors
don't always pursue every case, especially if it's not in their interests to do
so because the borrower has no money or other assets. I have known people who
filed for bankruptcy in large part because of debts when the creditors never
pursued them for the debts.
Your credit score has already been affected by your missed
mortgage payments, and bankruptcy will lower it even more. That's the bad news.
The good news is that your credit score doesn't need to stay down for long.
"With bankruptcy's fresh start, you can start
rebuilding your credit score almost immediately without the burdensome payments
that you couldn't service prior to filing," says Connolly. "Instead
of struggling while picking and choosing what bills get paid each month while
others are paid late, you should be in a position to handle your bills and pay
on time. With responsible bill paying, your credit score will continue to
You won't be able to turn around and buy a house, car or any
other major purchase right away, of course, at least without paying exorbitant
interest rates. Other than that, you may be surprised how quickly you can put
bankruptcy behind you and rebuild your credit. Especially in hard-hit Florida,
bankruptcy does not have the stigma it once did. If you can keep your history
clean from now on, creditors and other people interested in your credit history
will see you as you are -- a survivor of financial hard times who is making the
best of it and proving to be a lower credit risk now.
I wouldn't worry about a bankruptcy scaring off a potential
future husband. As long as you are completely honest, I think most people can
tell the difference between a habitual credit abuser and someone whose
financial ship capsized in the storm of the recession. Connolly agrees.
"If they wanted to marry you before, they will even with a bankruptcy in
your past. If it changes their mind, you're better off in the end, trust
me!" he says.
After marriage, your credit score is not combined with your
spouse. If you and your new husband apply for credit together, however, both of
your scores will be taken into consideration. That could result in a higher
interest rate you have to pay or even a loan rejection. The temporary fix is
simple. Connelly says, "The best thing to do if one spouse has a good
credit score and the other's is bad is to seek credit in the name of the spouse
with the good credit score."
Eventually, as you pay your bills on time, you can reapply
for credit and continue to build great credit yourself.
Your current financial trials may affect you in the years to
come, but not as much as you may think. In fact, many of us who have been
through financial hardship at one time or another learned a great deal in the
process. If nothing else, we learned to appreciate being able to pay our bills
and buy necessities without undue stress. Good luck! I hope you find both the
financial peace and the happy marriage you are seeking.
See related: You're eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but should you file?, A guide to navigating through bankruptcy
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