When a 'friend' racks up $11,000 on your card

By Erica Sandberg

Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

Ask a question.

'Opening Credits' stories

Question Dear Opening Credits,
Approximately three or four months ago, I let a friend of mine who was going through a horrific situation use my Discover card for "emergency purchases only." She ran up nearly $11,000 in credit card charges in three months! I don't know what to do now. I don't want to report her to the criminal authorities because I have known her for approximately 25 years. I am disabled with a severe crippling condition. I am shocked and traumatized that this woman who I thought I could trust would do this to me. I really do not know what to do. I receive only $733 in SSI income each month. Last month, I paid nearly $300 against that Discover card balance and only $56 was applied to the principal. Can you please help or advise me what I should do about this debt? The only way to support my claim is I would have to request copies of my text messages telling her repeatedly to use the card for "emergency purchases only.” Any response from you would be greatly appreciated.    – Daniel


Dear Daniel,
This case is as upsetting as it is complicated. I wish I had an easy answer that would produce fast and happy results. Guidance I can give, but in the end, you’ll have to make some hard choices.

You gave your “friend” permission to use your credit card should she need to cover an unaffordable necessary expense. However, what constitutes an emergency is subjective. Maybe she did believe that she was using the card appropriately. If so, she adhered to the terms of the agreement. Or perhaps she was devious and horrible. Whatever her true mindset, it will be tough to prove fraud because you allowed her to use your card.

Even if you were able to present the text messages to Discover where you stated that she could use your card for emergencies, the company would probably perceive it as nothing more than you authorizing her to charge.

Given that, you are most likely liable for the balance she ran up. So what to do?

If you wanted, you could try to sue this so-called friend for damages. Small claims courts hear these types of disputes all the time. You may not be able to sue for the entire sum she owes you (the maximum amount depends on which state you live in), but if you win, the award may be close. At that stage she’ll have a judgment on her credit report, and you might be able to force payments with a wage garnishment order or other post-judgment collection methods.

It’s a very unpleasant process, so if you tell her that she either has to reimburse you voluntarily or you’ll have to take legal action, she may opt for the former.

I can understand if you might not want to take her to court. Because of your physical condition, a lawsuit may be too grueling. It does take time and energy. You also don’t seem eager to get this person in trouble due to your lengthy personal history.

That leaves you and the debt. You can try to pay it off to the best of your ability, but I urge you to exercise restraint. It is very important that you take care of yourself and your own financial needs first.  

If you can’t come up with the cash somehow by selling something or tapping savings, you can stop making payments. After the account is significantly delinquent, Discover will either sue you or sell the debt to a collection agency. If you lose the case, now you will be faced with a judgment. The good news is that SSI benefits cannot be garnished, and if you have no assets to claim, the repercussions are limited to credit damage.

Doing nothing is a passive way of dealing with this situation, but you may also explore Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you qualify, you can have this debt, along with any other unsecured balances you may owe, wiped out in court. But filing bankruptcy costs money, too.

I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I hope that this person does whatever it takes to make amends so you don’t have to take any of these actions.

See related: Is sharing your credit card ever OK?, Why you should file a police report for card fraud

Meet's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,'s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Published: September 21, 2016

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Follow Us

Updated: 10-28-2016

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.