5 Ways to Solve Your Spouse’s Credit Card Problems

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Do you have a problem with your spouse’s credit card behavior? If so it’s not hard to imagine why. Some couples are so far apart on finances and spending that they find it difficult to make the credit card payments. The easiest place to both overspend and incur more debt is with those little pieces of magic plastic.

The good news is that if you and your spouse can get on the same page when it comes to using credit cards, you’ll probably have very few problems in other areas of your financial lives. There is a lot at stake. Let’s get to work.

The first order of business is determining where you each stand with your credit scores and reports. The good news is that you can easily get your credit score for free without even signing up for a “free trial” or any other inconvenience. No excuses. This step clears away the “he said she said” arguments. Be armed with the facts. Maybe you spouse’s credit problem is all in your head. By getting the reports and scores, you’ll know.

Let’s assume that you have great credit but your husband does not. Here are the 5 steps to solve your spouse’s credit card challenges:

1. Roots

Your spouse may have a bad credit score because of some specific event that occurred several years ago or it may be because he just has bad financial habits. You have to get clear on the nature of the problem before you can try to implement a solution. Once you get the facts on the credit score and report, you’ll know why his credit score was knocked down.

2. Commitment

You’ve already made a commitment to each other when you got married. But are you each willing to do what’s best for each other when it comes to finances?

This is a very serious question and one you should both really consider. The answer will have a big impact on your relationship for years to come. Are you both willing to do the work? Are you willing to track your budget? Are you both willing to live within a specific and identified amount of money?

If overspending is the problem, the solution is often putting the responsible party (you) in charge of the finances and providing an “allowance” for your spouse while he is developing new financial behaviors. Is he willing to do this? If he has no commitment to make significant changes you may find it very difficult to move forward.

3. Protect Yourselfspouse credit card

Even if your spouse is willing to do what’s right, you have to protect yourself starting now. Nobody is perfect and just because he demonstrates good behavior now doesn’t mean he won’t have a slip down the road. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t expect perfection.

Towards that end, close all joint accounts and credit cards. If you are a joint owner of a card, understand that you are 100% responsible for the debts. That means even if your spouse keeps his spending ways a secret, you’re on the line if you are a joint owner. Contact the credit card company now and tell them you want to close the account.

The only time you probably will have to have two people sign a loan agreement is when it comes to obtaining a mortgage. But even then, you might be surprised. If you have a much better credit score than your spouse, you may actually get a lower interest rate by being the only signature on the mortgage. If you can do this, my strong suggestion is to do so.

If you are buying a car and can’t get a car loan with your signature alone, buy a less expensive car. Consider getting something a year or two old rather than buying new. This is my favorite way to save a huge amount of money on cars – and it’s another way to insulate yourself from your spouse and his credit card problems.

4. Trust….but verify.

If your spouse can’t get a card of his own, consider making him an authorized user on your card if you feel comfortable doing so and it’s necessary – but be cautious. Check the charges on the card every few days to make sure he’s not going nuts. If he does let you down, you can always cut him off any time you like.

5. Work Together

Teach your spouse how to improve his credit score by paying bills on time and by keeping spending reasonable. Once he “gets it” he can rebuild his credit and you can help. At this point you may have to become a co-signer when he applies for a credit card. If you go this route, only do so once he’s demonstrated responsibility. Even so, take a look at the card charges every day to make sure there is no funny business going on.

I know that when two people get together they bring strengths and weaknesses. I also know first-hand that relationships are dynamic and require commitment and work. If you spouse has a credit card problem, it doesn’t have to be fatal to the relationship. But he must be committed to the solution and he must demonstrate different behaviors. If not, my fear is that you will struggle for a very long time.

What is/was your experience with your spouse and credit cards? Do you have similar or different ideas? How did you reconcile your differences?

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