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Help! I'm being sued for ex-wife's debt

Erica Sandberg

July 17, 2015

QHi Erica,

I married my first wife in Las Vegas when she was 17 and I was 29. Being a teenager with no job or anything stopped her from getting a credit card, so I got a card that we could both use. She ruined it fast and dragged my good name in the mud. I divorced her last year and am remarried to a real woman in a real church. The problem is my credit. I just found out I have a lawsuit on it, not her, and now I can't get a card. What can I do as she is gone and has no money? —David B.

ADear David B.,

You have what's called a monetary judgment, and it will affect your credit rating for a quite some time. The best action you can take is to delete this debt soon. If you don't, the problem can become much worse.

And yes, it's all on you to deal with this issue. Your former spouse did not bear liability for the account when it was first granted, nor does she now that it's been shut down and legal action was taken. At the time, she was merely an authorized user on the card. When it was active, she had the right to charge because you gave her permission to do so. And she did, perhaps too liberally, with a credit card imprinted with her name.Ask Erica

However, when you didn't pay the bills — as the owner of the account, that was your responsibility — damage began. The card issuer reported the delinquent payments to the credit bureaus and most likely hers as well. Eventually the issuer sued you for the balance.

So here you are, with a judgment on your credit reports. Look at the amount owed. It's most likely bigger than what it was before you were sued because a whole slew of fees were added, and interest is continuing to accrue.

How the judgment can be enforced and for how long depends on state law. In Tennessee, the creditor has several methods at its disposal, and can use them for 10 years. These include garnishing your paycheck, claiming cash from a bank account, placing a lien on property (a notice indicating that you owe money, and if you sell or refinance you have to clear the title by paying the lien) or even forcing the sale of such property.

As you can see, your troubles are just beginning if the creditor chooses to press the matter. Don't let it go that far. If you have the cash to pay it, contact the court to find out what steps you need to take next. If you don't have the full sum, but can make partial payments, ask the court for authorization to pay in installments. Whichever way you go, it's very important that you follow correct procedures. Obtain legal counsel. There are free legal clinics and hotlines around the country if you need them — here's one for where you live.

Regarding your credit rating, the judgment will show up in the public record section of your credit reports for a total of seven years. The late payments and charge-off will appear in the trade line section of the reports for the same time frame. All this is surely resulting in low credit scores, especially in the first 24 months. You're almost certainly in the high-risk category, which will greatly limit the accounts you can qualify for at this stage. Satisfy the judgment and you'll be in a better position, but your scores won't completely recover until evidence of the entire affair no longer shows up.

Still, you may be able to get a secured credit card at this point. You will need a job and have to put some cash down as a deposit. Upon acceptance, you will have a small credit line to use and rebuild your reputation. Charge and pay on time and in full, over and over again. This positive activity will show up on your reports and factored into your scores, which will eventually rise.

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