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Am I liable for unpaid bills on a company credit card?

What to do if your name is on the card and your former company didn't pay the bill

By  |  Published: March 27, 2017

Your Business Credit
Your
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question Dear Your Business Credit,
I recently left a company that had me run up the corporate gold American Express and now is not paying it. They put $40,000 on my card and $100,000 on my secretary’s card. AmEx is calling us now, but we never thought we could be personally liable and were told that many times. We have had the cards for 15 years, so finding the original agreements will be tough. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you. – Andrew

Answer Dear Andrew,
Yikes! I can imagine you are stressed about this.

You didn’t mention what type of charges you and your secretary put on the cards or why the company is not paying them. From what you wrote, there does not seem to be a dispute over whether the charges were legitimate. So, in addressing your question, I am going to assume that these were the type of charges your former employer would normally have approved.

I contacted American Express to find out your options.

“If the customer could call [his] American Express representative, the number on the back of her card, or American Express OPEN at 800-492-3344, we’d be happy to help review [the] account,” the representative said in an email.

When I ran your situation past Eric N. Klein, an attorney in Boca Raton, Florida, with expertise in bankruptcy, he recommended that you request a copy of the original contract from American Express. It would be a good idea to ask for the contract when you make contact with AmEx.

It is possible that you signed a contract in which you assumed responsibility for the debt, but you will not be able to verify that until you see the agreement. 

If you signed a document that refers to “joint and several” liability, you could be responsible, he explained. “It means if two people sign on a contract, the person who seeks to enforce it could enforce it against one, the other or both of them,” Klein says.

However, it is also possible you never signed a contract or your employer signed it on your behalf, with your knowledge, he says. AmEx will have to produce the contract to enforce it, he says.

If it sounds like you could be on the hook after AmEx reviews your account, I would strongly suggest you speak with an attorney who has experience in dealing with credit-related issues. 

It is also important to review any internal written and oral policies that concerned credit cards at your former company, Klein says. The employee handbook or other written materials may address how the company will reimburse expenses. If you have gone to your past supervisor seeking reimbursement with no results, try approaching HR, he suggests.

If that gets you nowhere, there are other ways to get your former employer’s attention. For instance, he says, you could file a complaint with the state attorney’s office or the state’s labor board.

So what if the worst happens and AmEx sues you to collect the debt? You can potentially treat the employer as a third-party defendant and use the policies and procedures against the employer, so the company – not you – has to pay the debts, he says.

Assuming the charges are legitimate, “The employer should be paying the bill,” Klein says.

If you get stuck with the bill, you could file for bankruptcy protection, but hopefully, it will not come to that. Still, it’s important to talk with a lawyer who knows the laws of your state so you don’t make mistakes that could cost you a bundle. “Each state is different,” says Klein.

See related: 7 things to know about business credit cards, Business credit card can damage your personal score

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Updated: 08-23-2017

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