A reader says his wife thinks he should get off her back about her "shopping therapy" trips with friends.

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Question: My wife and I have been married only a year, but already I see a problem. She came into this marriage with about a $6,000 balance on a couple credit cards, and that’s only getting bigger — even though we got a new place together and are spending less than when we were single! 

She likes to go on her “shopping therapy” trips with her single friends who are having relationship problems. But it’s causing a problem in our relationship because I don’t want to be responsible for her debts. She says the credit cards are in her name, and it’s not my problem. But what about her credit sore if we want to buy a house later?

 I should mention she declared bankruptcy once when she was younger, and she says if she needs to again, she’ll do it in her name. So she tells me to get off her back. Is she right about all this?

— Andre in Texas

Howard Dvorkin answers…

Your wife is wrong. If she didn’t live in Texas, she might’ve been right.

Sound confusing? It is. Nine out of our 50 states are known as community property states. These states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin — consider all the property and debt acquired in a marriage to belong to both partners. That stands even if only one spouse made money or lost money.

In a divorce, that means the spouses evenly split the profits and debts of their marriage.

This means the credit bills your wife rang up before you were married is hers alone, but the new credit debt she’s incurring belongs to the both of you. This also means: You’re equally responsible for her debts if she declares bankruptcy.

I must add the following two words to everything I’ve just written: generally speaking. When you mesh debt with bankruptcy and community property laws — which vary some in different states — it’s impossible to list all the variables in one answer.

What I can say with 100-percent certainty:

  • If your wife gets to the point where she contemplates another bankruptcy, she (and you) need to try pre-bankruptcy credit counseling. This counseling, which can cost as little as $50, might actually spare you from having to declare bankruptcy at all.
  • Your girlfriends needs to immediately get a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Credit counseling is, hand down, the best way to avoid credit card problems later on.
  • The both of you need to have an honest talk about money. How you save it. How you spend it. What your goals are. I urge you to create a budget. Here’s some advice on how not to create a budget.

Here’s a depressing prediction, Andre: If you and your new wife don’t confront your money differences and resolve them as a loving couple, you might not be a loving couple for long. Debt has a way of weakening the strongest bonds.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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Meet the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin

CPA and Chairman

Dvorkin is the author of Credit Hell and Power Up, founder of Consolidated Credit, and Chairman of Debt.com.

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Article last modified on July 5, 2018. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Am I Responsible For My Spouse’s Credit Card Debt? - AMP.