If you open a new credit card with the same issuer you’d been an authorized user on your ex-husband’s accounts, the new account will show as a new trade line on your credit report – and you’ll lose that credit history. But you can still rebuild your credit on your own; here’s how.
Dear Keeping Score,
I have been a stay-at-home mother/homemaker for over five years now. I have two young kids to take care of. Last year, my husband of six years had an affair and left our family for the other woman.
He closed a bunch of accounts and my credit score went from an 810 to 703 in under two months. I went from having the average age of my accounts maintaining at over seven years to less than one year (since I needed to open new accounts under my name only).
I have been listed as an authorized user on a couple of credit cards that have not yet been closed. I would like to maintain the length of those accounts solely to prevent my credit score from taking yet another hit.
Here is my question: Is it possible for me to open or switch to a different credit card within that company, AND have my seven-plus years transfer with me?
Due to my ex-husband being the account owner, it’s been tricky to find any information on it. I have called the companies directly, but they end up giving me the runaround and differing answers.
I’d like to know what I’m talking about before my next attempt at a conversation with them, and I’m hoping you can help me with that. Thanks! – Nichole
I am sorry to hear about your troubles. Knowing how credit scores work is our specialty here at Keeping Score, so I understand your concerns.
There are few life events that are as damaging to a person’s financial health as a divorce. The increase in expenses coupled with a decrease in income can make for a very challenging time that often includes the need to rebuild a credit profile and score. I cover divorce and its credit implications extensively in my book, “Credit Repair Kit for Dummies.”
How new trade lines work
The long and the short of your case is that the data in your credit report is tied to what is called a trade line. Each individual account you are on shows up as a trade line on your credit reports.
If you open a new account with a company you have done business with in the past, the new account will show as a new trade line – regardless of whether you were the primary account holder or an authorized user on any of those previous accounts.
For example, if you have a pre-existing personal American Express card and a new Marriott Bonvoy card from American Express, they are two different trade lines. The newer Amex card does not share the history from the older Amex card.
Even if both cards were personal American Express cards from Amex – say the American Express® Gold Card and the Platinum Card® from American Express – the histories would remain separate. From a business point of view, Amex would recognize that your history as a member cardholder goes back to the original card, but the credit bureaus would not.
You said you have opened new accounts in your name only and I’m thinking that may have more to do with the drop in your credit score than the loss of your credit history. This is especially true since you refer to accounts in the plural.
Every credit card application generates a hard inquiry on your credit, which can ding a few points off your score. However, the impact is only temporary as hard inquiries – also called “hard pulls” fall off your credit report after two years.
Keep this in mind, too – length of credit history only counts for 15 percent of your total, making it a relatively small piece of the credit scoring pie. What you need to do now is concentrate on the other 85 percent that you can control.
Here’s a brief refresher on the FICO credit scoring matrix:
- 35 percent of your score is payment (not length of credit) history.
- 30 percent is credit utilization (how much of your available credit you are using).
- 15 percent the aforementioned length of credit history.
- 10 percent is credit mix (the kinds of accounts you have).
- The final 10 percent is new credit.
Making sure to pay your bills on time and in full – if possible – and keeping your balances low will go a long way in bringing your score back where it used to be in the recent past – even if your length of credit history has been reduced.
Get divorced from your ex-husband’s credit card accounts
I want to address those older accounts that are still open that you are authorized on. In community property states, any accounts entered into during the marriage are automatically considered joint accounts, which would make you responsible for the debt.
Community property jurisdictions are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, Alaska (if you opt-in) and Puerto Rico.
If this is the case in your situation, I recommend you ask to be removed as an authorized user from the existing accounts. One purpose of a divorce is to separate your financial obligations. I don’t recommend that you continue to share financial obligations with your ex-spouse.
Even if you don’t live in a community property state, you may want to remove yourself from those remaining accounts just because you don’t know how your ex-husband is using the cards. If he suddenly misses a payment or even runs up a really high balance, that could drag your score down even further.
Building, or in your case rebuilding, a great credit score takes time and patience. But it can be done and you will be stronger for it in the end. And keep in mind that while your 810 score was excellent, your 703 score is still considered good.
I’m actually somewhat surprised your score stayed at 703 two months after being taken off the authorized user accounts. Typically, it takes FICO about six months to generate a score on a new credit user. The old authorized user accounts that you remained on probably accounted for such a good score after only two months.
There is another score I want you to aware of: VantageScore. Developed by the bureaus and a competitor of FICO, VantageScore will generate a score much faster, in as little as one month as long as at least one account has been reported within the previous 24 months.
VantageScore is not as widely known as FICO but it is a valid and respected credit score, and you might find that it places you in a higher category.
Remember to keep track of your score!