Husband won't stop charging on joint card

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question for the expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I am married. I have excellent credit. My husband does not. We have one joint credit card that he uses often without my knowledge. He makes regular payments on it, but can't get it down to zero at my request.

I know closing the card will adversely affect my (and his) score. Is there a way for me to know when he charges? Or can I be notified at the time he uses the card? Or is there a way both of us have to give permission to use card at the time it's being used? I live in California. -- Emily

Answer for the expert

Dear Emily,
If anyone would know about how to be notified anytime someone uses a card, it would be McAfee Online Security Expert Robert Siciliano. He says, "If I had the ability to get a text on my cards I'd be doing it." Unfortunately, he's unaware of cards that send a text with each charge.

Some of the large banks started a pilot program a few years ago that was to do just what you say -- notify you within minutes every time someone uses your card. It doesn't seem to have caught on, however.

"She could close the joint account and open her own and let him open his own," Siciliano says. "But then she won't know what he is spending, if that's part of her goal."

Closing your card would not necessarily lower your score. You could open a new card account of your own, so your credit utilization ratio (how your total debt compares to your available credit) would remain the same or similar.

However, getting your own card might actually make your debt situation worse. California is a community property state. You may be liable for your husband's debt, regardless of whether you're on his card. As long as you have a joint account, at least you see the statement. If you each have your own credit card, he could rack up an amazing bill in no time -- unbeknownst to you!

The next best thing to getting a text message when your husband buys something is for you to check your credit card statement regularly. Once a month may be enough, but maybe weekly or daily, depending on how often he's charging. I'm not sure what you'd do about it if your phone started buzzing about credit card charges all during the day, anyway. If your husband is determined to spend money, he will find a way.

Perhaps you've already tried, but I think a better tactic is to get your husband on your side. Many couples report having changed lives after going to personal finance classes together, such as the ones taught in community centers and churches. Or you can go to a financial counselor or read personal finance books together.

You and your husband may even enjoy talking about your goals and learning about finances together. At least it should alleviate some stress in your marriage. Many people see personal finance education as a negative thing. It's all budgets and hardships.

Good personal finance education is not all about eating peanut butter sandwiches at work every day, or driving a car held together with baling wire. Financial education helps couples learn how they can actually reach the goals that are most important to them.

Keeping an eye on you and your husband's spending is a great idea. However, trying to control his spending every minute probably won't work. When you and your husband learn to dream a little and set goals to work toward together, you'll truly become a financial team.

See related: Stuck with husband's debt in community property estate?

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Updated: 03-21-2019