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Debt on his late mother's credit card haunts a son

He was only an authorized user, but a credit report mistake hurts his score

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Credit Care
'Credit Care' columnist Kim McGrigg
Kim McGrigg is Community Manager for Money Management International, where she provides personal finance education information to consumers.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy
I was an authorized card holder on my mother's account. She passed away in October of 2010. I recently saw my credit bureau report and the account shows as a charge off against me. This will affect my credit score. How do I get this removed? I was told the law does not allow this to be done. -- Joel

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Joel,
My condolences for your recent loss. It is unfortunate that along with your grief you also have to deal with the charge-off issue on your mother's credit card account being reported on your credit report. The first thing I would recommend you do, if you have not done so already, is to get copies of your credit report from the other two major credit bureaus. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and request copies from the other two bureaus. Next, dispute the charge-off listing with each credit bureau that is reporting it. The simplest way to dispute items is through the bureau's website using its online dispute form. 

Also, contact the card issuer and request that your name be removed from the account as an authorized user. Either the primary account holder or the authorized user can request removal, and most card issuers accept the request by phone. If you have any trouble with the request while speaking with the card issuer's phone representative, ask to speak with a supervisor. Once your name is removed, the creditor will no longer report the account to the credit bureaus in your name, which should positively impact your credit score.

As an authorized user on the account, you cannot be held legally liable for any unpaid balance on your mother's account -- unlike a joint account, in which both parties sign up for the account and jointly share responsibility for the entire debt. However, the creditor may attempt collection from your mother's estate, if she has one. The creditor may even attempt to collect from you, but if it does, simply remind the caller that as an authorized user you know the balance is not your legal responsibility to pay.

Unfortunately, sometimes creditors can be persistent, even when told that you are not legally responsible for the debt. If you continue to receive calls after informing the creditor that as an authorized user you are not responsible for payment, you may need to hire an attorney to intervene on your behalf. If you already have an attorney that is assisting with your mother's estate, he or she could help with any collection problems as well.

I want to leave you with one piece of good news. Should your mother have assets after her will is probated that could be tapped to pay the card issuer, the Credit CARD Act provides that all interest and fees associated with the account must cease while the estate is being settled. In addition, the creditor must be timely about informing the executor of an estate the total credit card debt owed.

Handle your credit with care!

See related: What happens to credit card debt after death, How to remove yourself or someone else as an authorized user, Law compels speedy disclosure of credit card debt to estate executors, Guide to the Credit CARD Act of 2009

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Published: April 25, 2011


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