Removing your name from a joint account after divorce

You're still responsible if ex doesn't pay; consider a balance transfer


Credit Smart
Credit Smart columnist Susan C. Keating
Susan C. Keating is the president and chief executive officer of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Prior to joining the NFCC, Keating spent 29 years in financial services. She was the highest ranking female CEO of a U.S. bank holding company, serving as president and chief executive of Allfirst Financial Inc., the largest U.S. holding of AIB Group. She currently serves on Bank of America's National Consumer Advisory Council and is a board member of the Council on Accreditation. Keating also participates in the Financial Regulation Reform Collaborative, a nonpartisan group committed to finding solutions for reforming financial services regulation.

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Dear Credit Smart,
When we were married, my ex-spouse and I opened up a joint credit card account. We are recently divorced. She has agreed to pay balance and card has been canceled. Is there a way to remove my name from the account? – CT


Dear CT,
It can be difficult to remove your name from a joint account. You can certainly call the credit card company and ask to be removed. They might agree if your ex-spouse has sufficient income to qualify alone for the account. Here’s what you need to know if that is not successful.

The credit card company’s position right now is that the account was opened in good faith by you and your ex-spouse and, in the same good faith, the credit card company extended the credit to you both. The fact that your circumstances have changed via a divorce doesn’t make a difference to the credit card company. Credit was extended and used. Even though the use of the card has been canceled, the account itself is still active as there is still a balance due. Until that balance has been paid in full, your name is going to be associated with this account if you can’t get your name removed. If the credit card company is unable to get a payment from your ex, it will most certainly look to you.

What that means for you is that you need to try to keep an eye on what is happening with the card. I understand that your ex has agreed to pay the balance. However, if for any reason a payment is missed and the account falls behind, both of your credit reports are going to be impacted in a negative way. And, as I mentioned earlier, you will start being contacted for payment. The debt is still owed and the company will exhaust every means for collecting.

Ideally, the account is set up for online access. If so, you should be able to monitor the payment activity yourself. You are still an accountholder and you should still have the right to see the statements.

This is true even if your divorce decree states that your ex is responsible for the debt. You don’t say if that is the case in your question and it could be that this was just a promise made by your ex. It really makes no difference at all to the credit card company because the account was opened jointly in both of your names. You are both equally responsible in the eyes of the credit card company until the debt is paid in full.

If you are contacted by the credit card company for payment, I would suggest that you pay if you can. Otherwise you may be faced with collection efforts and seven years of negative reporting on your credit report.

However, I don’t want you to think that you are simply out of luck here. I do have one other idea for removing yourself from the account. Much will depend on if your ex has good credit and if the two of you are on fairly good terms. Since she did agree to take on the debt, you might suggest she obtain a new credit card, and transfer the balance to the new account. This could be a great move, especially if your ex could qualify for a 0-percent interest balance transfer rate. Offers with interest-free periods of 12 to 18 months are common. Although a fee of about 3 percent is required, paying no interest should save her some money as she pays down the debt, which could be a compelling argument for you to use in favor of her trying.

Since the balance transfer would be in your ex’s name only, it effectively removes you from the account. It is certainly worth suggesting and something my other readers should keep in mind if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Remember to always use your credit smarts!

See related: 5 ways an ex can ruin your credit during breakup, divorce, Ex still charging on old joint card account, Don't ignore divorce decree debt mandate

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Published: May 28, 2016

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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