July 25, 2014
Here’s an unfortunate scenario that popped up on Reddit recently: A man moved in with his girlfriend, and he opened a credit card to handle shared expenses. First, he added her as an authorized user, but then he added her as an accountholder, at which point she transferred $10,000 of balances from other credit cards to their shared card (which had a $12,000 limit). He now feels the relationship isn’t working and wants to break up with her. However, he doesn’t know how to get out of the debt situation because she doesn’t have any cards with a credit limit high enough to handle a $10,000 balance transfer.
Sounds bad, right? It is.
Some members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors weighed in on the situation based on the few details provided by the Redditor, noting there’s little you can do to extricate yourself from debt in your name, regardless of how it got there.
Not that divorce is in any way enjoyable, but there’s a legal process for dividing assets and debt when a marriage ends. (Even then, it can take several months for you and your ex to untangle finances.)
“I don’t have an issue with living together, but every time you make a major financial decision, you have to think about the exit strategy,” said Jorie Johnson, a certified financial planner in New Jersey. Whether you’re going into a credit card or a couch purchase together, you need to know what you’re going to do with it if the relationship doesn’t workout. A mindset that seems pessimistic in the moment may save your finances later on. “Anyone can change their mind at any time.”
Ideally, the Redditor would have discussed the credit card debt with his girlfriend before she did the balance transfer, rather than try and deal with it in addition to his desire to end the relationship. Once she added that debt to their card, he was accountable for it, so it would have helped to work on a way to start paying it down and helping her rebuild her credit.
As it is, he has to hope for an amicable breakup, otherwise he should count on paying that credit card bill.
“If you’re breaking up, and you have debt in your own name, you’re going to remain responsible for that debt,” said Alan Moore, a CFP in Milwaukee. “That doesn’t mean she’s liable for half, and he’s liable for half – they’re both liable for all of it.”
Considering the girlfriend is likely going to get dumped, the boyfriend had better hope she doesn’t refuse to pay out of spite, because his credit rating is on the line.
When you’re thinking of combining finances – either when you’re single or married – don’t rush into it. You should both look at your credit scores and have an understanding of how the other person approaches spending and budgeting, so you can work out a way to live in emotional and monetary harmony. To see how you and your significant other fare in the credit world, you can review your credit data for free on Credit.com and kickstart that important conversation about finances.