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Husband's Hobbies Drag Wife into Card Debt

Erica Sandberg

January 29, 2013

QDear Erica,

What can you do about a husband who is out of control with the credit cards? We have a total of $14,566 in debt between us, and not one cent of it is due to me. It is his hobbies. Everything from golf to fishing to baseball cards. He just charges what he wants and what we can't afford. He is retired from a well-paying job and gets a pension, but it's still not as much as he made when he was working. I am still working part time and feel that I'm shouldering the burden. On top if that, I want to refinance the house, but with this debt we can't. I swear to God I feel like killing him. — Michelle

AHi Michelle,

I'm sure you're just blowing off steam, but let me get this right out in the open now: Murder is not the answer.

However, I totally understand your fury and frustration. Your husband has put you both in arrears and sidetracked an excellent money-saving opportunity. Refinancing a mortgage is very often a great idea. It allows you to get a better interest rate, pay less each month and save on financing fees. However, the bank will require good credit, and because you're overextended, there goes that option. At least for now.Ask Erica

Can you prevent your husband from charging the cost of his hobbies? That depends. If the cards are just in his name, you can't. But if you have joint ownership, you may be able to suspend use by calling the creditors and asking. You won't be able remove your name from the account, and you'll still remain responsible for the current balance, but you can at least prevent any more purchases from being added to the balance.

In the meantime, you need to address the big debt that's hanging over your heads. When you pay it down, you may be able to refinance your home.

I have a strong suspicion that your husband has a lot of stuff hanging around. Selling some of it and using the proceeds to reduce the debt is a reasonable place to start. Now I'm not suggesting that you rip the golf clubs from his hands or sneak his fishing rods from the garage and post them on eBay without his knowledge and consent. Instead, consider this strategy:

  1. Gather financial documents. For the credit card bills, circle the amount you currently owe and the interest that's being applied. Also get the information about the potential new mortgage, including how much money you can shave off the loan's balance.
  2. Schedule a time and place to speak. The meeting space should be in a public place like a quiet cafe or park. You don't want to be at home because you may be too free to raise your voices and argue.
  3. Set ground rules. No insults or accusations. You've got a serious problem that needs solving, so make a commitment to sticking to the subject and acting as a team.
  4. Make your suggestions. Discuss the situation, using the paperwork you gathered as evidence that drastic action must be taken. Explain that if he were to sell some of his gear, you could pay off some of the debt and delete the balances faster. Also tell him that neither of you should use the cards while you're in repayment mode. Determine a fixed monthly payment that you can promise to the creditors and don't waver from it.

Can't resolve the problem on your own? Call in the professionals. You can get free assistance from a credit counseling agency. They'll go over your budget and design a spending plan that makes sense for your situation and give you advice about the debt. Still, you might require more help than what they can give you. If you can afford it, go for real couple's counseling with a therapist who specializes in money matters. Many health insurance plans cover at least a few sessions.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.