Keeping Score

How can I help my financially abused, disabled ex-husband repair his credit?


If a disabled person for whom you have power of attorney is being abused financially, you can freeze his credit and contact the card companies to which he owes balances.

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Steve Bucci has been helping people decode and master personal finance issues for more than 20 years. He is the author of “Credit Management Kit For Dummies,” “Credit Repair Kit For Dummies,” “Barnes and Noble Debt Management,” co-author of “Managing Your Money All-In-One For Dummies” and “Debt Repair Kit For Dummies” (Australia). Steve is an experienced expert witness in identity theft, credit scoring and debt related cases. He has been a presenter at the FICO InterACT Global Conference, the Federal Reserve and the International Credit Symposium at Cambridge University in the UK.

How can I help my financially abused, disabled ex-husband repair his credit?

If a disabled person for whom you have power of attorney is being abused financially, you can freeze his credit and contact the card companies to which he owes balances. You may also want to hire a lawyer in case debt collectors decide to take him to court.

Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Keeping Score,

My former husband suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him 100 percent disabled. He has all of the resulting problems that come with such a devastating injury, including poor judgment, lack of a sense of consequences, easily manipulated, inability to control his impulses and more. His intellect is that of a nine-year-old.

His niece took him out and convinced him to open a Care Credit card for an emergency vet bill of $298. She did this behind my back, knowing full well that I have power of attorney and handle all of his finances. She had the physical card sent to her home address. My ex-husband never had possession of the card, and he never used that account to buy anything.

Within two weeks, the account was charged to 106 percent of its limit. His niece has never made a single payment.

My ex-husband’s credit has tanked by 200 points. He lives on Social Security and a small pension and is unable to pay back the $4,000-plus that she owes. Considering his vulnerable condition, is there anything I can do to get the debt collectors off his (my) back and begin to repair his credit? Synchrony will not discuss anything about the account with me despite receiving the POA documents. I have gone to the police, and there is no help there.

Please advise me which direction to take. This is not the first time a member of that family has financially exploited my ex-husband since his brain injury. Please help. -Tracy

Dear Tracy,

I am so sorry you are going through this. It seems you have plenty on your plate already without having to deal with unscrupulous family members.

Because it appears that you have exhausted the law enforcement route to no avail and there seems to be a pattern here, my suggestion is to immediately contact each of the credit bureaus and place a credit freeze on your ex-husband’s files. Some good news: Credit freezes are now free in all 50 states. This change was a long time coming, but the recent outbreak of data breaches has played a role in getting this long-overdue legislation enacted.

A credit freeze should ensure that no one will be able to open new credit in your ex-husband’s name. It also means he will probably not be able to apply for any new credit for himself without having to unfreeze one or more of his accounts. This is also free.

The new law requires the credit bureaus to freeze access to your file within one day of your request, and they have only an hour to unfreeze it. However, most of the time when requesting the freeze online or by phone, the result will be pretty close to instantaneous. Hopefully, that will be enough to deter any other shameless family members from trying to do the same thing.

See related: How to undo fraud charges when the thief is a family member

Debt collectors may persist, but they must follow the law

If you feel that he (and you) are being harassed by the debt collection calls, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act will be your BFF. This law was created for just this kind of scenario. Debt collectors must follow rules when it comes to dealing with the public. They cannot call you at unreasonable hours or call you at work if you tell them that you cannot take their call at work. You can also send a letter telling them to quit contacting you about the debt, and they must comply.

However, just because the calls stop does not mean that the debt has gone away. Your ex-husband can still be sued for the debt and the collectors can (and probably will) continue to report the debt to the credit reporting agencies. This is going to further damage his credit score until the account reaches 180 days past due and charges off. If the collection activity comes to a lawsuit, I suggest you seek legal representation for your ex-husband. With his only income being Social Security and a pension it is very unlikely that these funds can be garnished, but you will want him to be properly represented in court.

The result of the suit could be a judgment that can’t be executed. Given enough time (this varies by state but may not be too long) the debt will run afoul of the statute of limitations. At that point he will still owe the debt, but no one will be able to use the courts to force him to pay. I cover the statute of limitations in detail in my book, “Credit Repair Kit For Dummies,” which you can find online or at your local library. Additionally, there are both federal and state laws regarding abuse and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults, but the laws are different in each state. I would suggest a call to your local legal aid society to find someone to help direct you.

See related: Be cautious before helping seniors with their finances

Call the card company and explain the situation

I also suggest that you give Synchrony another call and ask to speak to a manager. Because you do have power of attorney for your ex-husband, you have the right to find out how this happened and how you can tackle the problem. Right now, all the creditors are concerned about is getting their money, but there are other things going on here that any responsible creditor will want to address with you on behalf of your ex-husband. They will probably require you to show them a police report; I know you said there was “no help there,” but you need to file a report to document what happened, even if they won’t prosecute. You will likely need that for your attorney anyway.

At this point, I wouldn’t be all that concerned about your ex-husband’s credit score. Once you have worked through this nightmare, there will be time enough to deal with that. For now, just be sure the bills he has incurred on his own are paid on time every month. The last thing he needs is another collector breathing down his – and your – neck.

Remember to keep track of your score!

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