Steps to recover from financial infidelity
Lesson learned: Never give a spouse full control over finances
By Danielle Sacks
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
for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question
, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Dear To Her Credit,
I am going through a divorce in Kansas, and my soon-to-be
ex-husband handled all of the finances. I worked full time while he worked on
the side cleaning. About nine months before he left, he started working full
He was constantly saying we were broke. I had two credit
cards before we were married, to which I added him as an authorized user.
During the marriage, he opened more credit card accounts that he said were in his
name. Nine months before he left, he stopped paying all the bills, which I
didn't know until he left. I went through box after box and cabinet after
cabinet to find he had been writing checks from the credit card accounts to
himself and signing my name -- almost $30,000 worth! I didn't know checks came
with credit cards. He also applied for two credit cards solely in my name
without telling me and added himself as an authorized user.
In 2007, he said we needed a second mortgage on our home. He
handled all the paperwork, and I signed it. I don't know where the money went.
That's not all! To my surprise and fear, I discovered last
week when I reviewed my credit report he also applied for a loan in my name in
2007, which I knew nothing about.
What can I do? I have over $100,000 in credit card debt and accounts
I never opened or used. Help, please. -- Sandy
It's not uncommon for spouses to take advantage of each
other when they are contemplating or in the midst of a divorce. Your ex has
taken it past the usual levels of unpleasantness, however, with his
premeditated, criminal actions.
You do not live in a community property state; therefore,
your ex's debts are not assumed to be yours simply because you were married. Unfortunately,
he made sure your name was on all of them. Here's what you will probably be
- Credit cards you had before the marriage. These were
legitimately in your name and you added him as an authorized user. His
purchases may have been out of line, but you were responsible for checking the
charges and the balance.
- Second mortgage, destination of proceeds unknown. You
signed, and the mortgage company put up the money based on your good credit and
income. It's also attached to your home. These accounts were opened without your consent and should
be of interest to the police.
- Credit cards opened fraudulently. He forged your signature
on the applications and again on the checks? That's a crime.
- Loan from 2007. You didn't know about it and never signed
The first thing you should do is close all accounts he has
access to and put a freeze on your credit. I'd also recommend contacting one of the major credit
bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), so they put a fraud alert on your name.
You only have to tell one agency -- it will alert the other two.
Next, contact the Federal Trade Commission and tell them
your identity has been compromised. You may not think of a spouse opening
accounts in your name as identity theft, but it is. Call the FTC toll-free at 877-IDTHEFT or 877-438-4338, or go to the FTC's Identity Theft website.
You should also file a report with the local police or
county sheriff. This report will help you prove you are not liable for the
Contact the creditor for each fraudulently opened account
and tell them you did not open the account and are not
responsible for it. Send a copy of the police report.
Even though you are liable for the second mortgage and the
credit cards you signed up for, your husband's deceit and apparent siphoning of
assets out of the marriage for months before he left should be considered in
the divorce settlement. Try to get the debts that are in your name paid off
with marital assets, or they may come back to haunt you. Remember, a divorce
decree only binds parties to the divorce, it does not affect the rights of
The best way you can look out for yourself during this
difficult time is to get qualified legal counsel and other professional help.
You can't afford to not have it. Take care, and I hope you are free from the
consequences of your ex's financial misdeeds soon.
See related: Put your credit report on ice with a credit freeze,
80 percent of spouses lie about spending, How to cope when spouse's secret debts come to light
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Published: December 9, 2011