Stroke, spending spree leaves family with debt emergency

Question for the expert

Dear Let's Talk Credit,
My wife suffered a stroke approximately six months ago and is somewhat recovered. The trouble is in the last several months she has run up several thousands of dollars in credit card debt that I did not know about. She has lost much of her ability to deal with numbers and was advised not to have anything to do with money as a result of repercussions from the stroke. She also lost her ability to drive. The credit card company gave her this "blank check" (credit card) with no questions asked. How do I, as the husband, sole money earner and manager of our finances navigate this affair? Thanks. -- Jay

Answer for the expert

Dear Jay,
I am sorry to hear about your wife's stroke and I hope she is on the road to recovery. As long as you are certain this was the only credit card she opened and used after the stroke, it would be in both of your best interests to put all her credit cards in a safe place.

Seeing as your wife was advised by medical professionals not to participate in monetary transactions, you might consider placing a freeze on her credit. This would mean she would be unable to apply for or accept new credit offers. Contact each of the three major credit bureaus and request that a freeze be placed. Depending on the state in which you reside, you may have to pay a small fee to place and lift the credit freeze.

A credit freeze should prevent any additional surprise accounts in your wife's name. Now, for some possible solutions for the credit card balance that has already been accrued:

You might consider contacting a consumer debt attorney. As your wife was advised by her medical team to avoid money matters, your attorney may be able to prove that your wife did not have the mental capacity to legally enter into a contract with the card issuer. Should the contract be voided as a result, no money would be owed on the account.

Another option is to make adjustments to your current spending to pay off the the credit card debt. As an example, you would need to make a monthly payment of $270 to satisfy a debt of $3,000 at 15 percent interest in one year, or a monthly payment of $145 to pay it down in two years.

Should you be unable to make payments on the credit card account, you could contact the creditor and explain the situation. You may qualify for a temporary hardship program that would lower your interest rate and payment amount to where you could afford to make payments. Be sure to pay off as much of the balance as possible during the lower interest rate period. If your creditor will not work with you, contact a nonprofit member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Let's keep talking!

See related: When your spouse's debt collection becomes your nightmare, Help! My husband's ruining my credit, Can you use dad's credit card when he's ill?

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Updated: 01-16-2019