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Fight back against husband who opens credit cards in wife's name

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Credit Care
'Credit Care' columnist Tanisha Warner
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, where she manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. She writes "Credit Care," a weekly reader Q&A about debt issues, for CreditCards.com.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Credit Care,
What happens in a scenario in which a husband opens up credit card offers mailed to the wife's name and opens up the account, signing her name and arranging for mail to be sent to a private address -- all without consulting with the wife? The wife will close down all of these accounts and monitor her credit rating. Do any of the husband's actions count as a prosecutable offense such as forgery, credit card fraud or identity theft or some other charge? PS: The divorce is in progress. Thank you. -- C.B.

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear C.B.,
The wife can consult with her divorce attorney on the best way to handle the husband's actions concerning the credit card accounts. Her attorney will take into consideration all the ramifications of any legal action taken or not taken from the perspective of what is best for the wife in the big picture and after the divorce.

She should move forward with closing the credit card accounts that the husband opened in her name. She will not want to allow him to add any more to the balances on the accounts than has already been charged. To protect her credit, she may also want to have the statements sent to her address. Or at the very least she should be able to access the account information online to assure that payments are being made on the accounts.

If the communication between the husband and wife is not good, which from your letter it sounds as if it may not be, the wife may need to make the minimum payments on the accounts herself until a resolution has been reached. She should keep records of the payments for purposes of reimbursement that may be included in the terms of the divorce.

I would recommend that she follow the advice of her attorney, but in general, it is best for divorcing couples to dissolve any joint credit accounts and incorporate the balances of the accounts onto separate accounts in the name of the person who it is decided should be responsible for the debt. A joint debt can be assigned to one individual in a divorce decree. If the person assigned the debt does not pay, the original credit agreement is still valid and the other joint account owner could be held responsible for payment. Worse, the joint account owner's credit can be negatively affected if payment is not made by the person who is responsible for payment.

One possible scenario for the wife is to include in the conditions of the divorce that the husband transfer the balances of the credit card accounts that he opened in the wife's name to accounts in his name. Depending on what other possible legal action could be taken against the husband regarding the accounts in the state where the divorce occurs, he may choose to accept this condition rather than the possibility of facing other legal resolutions.

Handle your credit with care!

See related: Dividing credit card debt in divorce

Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, the largest nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency in the United States. She manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. You can find more money management advice on Blogging for Change and MMI's Facebook page.

Credit Care answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week. Send your question to Credit Care.

Published: May 21, 2012


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