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Going through a divorce is rough. There are so many things to think about, and so many emotional decisions to be made that it’s easy to let a few things slip.
The last thing on most people’s minds when they’re going through a divorce is their credit. Or, if you’ve deferred the financial decisions to your spouse, maybe you’re learning about credit for the first time.
Nevertheless, it’s really important to pay attention to your credit during and after a divorce. Without good credit, it could be much harder to rebuild your life post-divorce.
It may be harder (or impossible) to qualify for a good home loan, or even an apartment. It is possible to rebuild your credit post-divorce on your own, as we’ll show you.
But if you’re having a hard time, you can research reputable credit repair services such as Lexington Law. There are a lot of shady credit repair “companies” out there, so it’s important to do your due diligence when seeking out help.
If you’d like to get started on your own, however, here are some easy steps you can take.
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Pay Down Your Debt
Janice Lintz was left with a huge burden of debt after her divorce. She knew there was only one thing to do.
“I paid off my six-figure legal debt from my divorce using my maintenance. I also found creative ways to pay off my debt.”
Lintz tried a lot of things, from downsizing her house, cutting cable, stopping shopping for new clothes, and reviewing and negotiating each of her bills. “I was unwittingly paying for the Disney Channel despite my children past that age,” she says.
Paying down your debt can have a huge effect on your credit score, especially if you start with high-interest credit card debt. This will decrease your credit utilization ratio: the percentage of your total credit card limit that you’re using.
It seems a bit paradoxical, but the less of your credit limit that you’re using, the more favorable lenders see you as — and, this will be translated into a higher credit score. It’s best to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%, and the lower, the better.
If you have a $10,000 credit limit — whether on one card or spread out among several cards, for example — this means you’d ideally carry a credit card balance of $3,000 or less.
Open a New Credit Card…Carefully!
Another way to build your credit after a divorce is to open a new credit card. Now, this comes with a couple of caveats. This is only a good idea if you can do these two things:
1) pay off your credit card bill on time, every time, and 2) pay off the entire balance (i.e., don’t carry a balance from month-to-month).
If you can do those things, opening a new credit card can help build your credit in a couple of different ways. First, it’ll lower your credit utilization ratio, because you’re adding more available credit to your name.
If you have a credit card balance, you can also kill two birds with one stone and open up a 0% APR balance transfer card. This will allow you to pay off your debt interest-free for a certain number of months.
Finally, opening a new credit card will also help to establish credit history in your name. The longer your credit history stretches back, the more you may see a boost in your credit score.
“After my divorce, I began taking out cards in my name,” says Lintz. “I have never missed or had a late payment. During financially tough times during the divorce, I paid my bill as I spent to ensure my bill never got ahead of me. Now, I’m using my excellent credit score to take out travel credit cards so that I can earn points to travel the world.”
Check Your Credit Report
It’s also common for one spouse to make late payments on an account during a divorce. Even if you’re not the one who’s supposed to be making payments, if your name is on the account, the negative mark will go on your credit report too.
These are especially damaging, since your score can drop by a lot, and the negative mark can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
That’s exactly what happened to Lintz. “My ex-husband paid the mortgage late twice, and my score dropped about 100 points as a result. I had, thankfully, alerted the bank ahead of time, and so they sent a dispute letter [after the fact]. Once the bank disputed the statement, my credit score resumed to its normal score very quickly.”
You can check your full credit report for free on AnnualCreditReport.com. Heads-up: you can only do this once per year for each of the three credit bureaus.
A good strategy to keep a closer eye on your report (without having to pay a fee to view it more frequently) is to request one of the three credit reports every four months.
Set Your Bills to Autopay
As you can see, even one or two late payments can seriously damage your credit score. So, now’s an especially important time to make sure you don’t make any accidental mistakes as well.
The best way to guard against late payments is to set up as many of your regular accounts as possible on autopay. That way you never have to think about it: it’ll just happen on its own.
The worst-case scenario is that you risk an overdraft fee if you don’t keep a close eye on your bank account. But, this can pale in comparison to paying thousands of dollars in extra interest on a home loan, for example, if your credit score isn’t in as good of shape as possible when you need to take out a mortgage.
Credit can be a very confusing topic for many people, especially if your situation is complicated. Just because you don’t fully understand how credit works doesn’t mean you can’t reach out for help.
Instead, if you need help building your credit after a divorce and don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, a reputable company like Lexington Law can help.
After all, you deserve the best credit score possible so you can make the most of your new life.