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
Am I Responsible For My Spouse’s Credit Card Debt?
They say love conquers all, but I’ve been a personal finance expert for more than two decades, and I can tell you that credit card debt can conquer your love.
It takes time, but like water carving out the Grand Canyon, credit card debt will put you in a deep hole. Besides the stress that debt adds to a relationship, big credit card balances can drag down the finances of a spouse who’s financially responsible.
Especially if they live in one of the nine states known as community property states. The law considers a married couple to be one person, in general, that means if one spouse runs up big debts, both spouses are responsible for it.
So you are really in it together. A debt can conquer love, what can conquer debt? I urge all couples with debt to get a free debt analysis from a certified professional to find the best solution. To keep the love alive! Read the rest of my advice below…
Is credit card debt keeping you from success? Learn how to get your debt under control.
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 wife 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.