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Try small claims court if ex-boyfriend won't pay card bill

Erica Sandberg

April 28, 2015

QHi Erica,

I bought some car stuff for my boyfriend with my one credit card because he said he would pay me back when his tax return came. He didn't pay, we broke up and now I can't pay the $890. What will happen to my credit? I told him I need the money, but he is avoiding me at every turn. This is not my fault! I have texts with him saying he would pay me. –Jazmine

ADear Jazmine,

This is going to sound a little harsh, but I'm afraid that this is your fault. Yes, your former boyfriend didn't follow through with his promise, but as an account owner you have assured the issuer that you will pay any charges you make. The fact is, you allowed the unaffordable items to be charged to your account, your ex didn't.

Some good news, though: It may be possible to force this deadbeat to come through with the cash. Because he is not responding to your messages, it may be time to flex your muscles by taking legal action against him. You have every right to sue this man for damages, with small claims court being your venue. The amount you can sue for in this court depends on state law, but $890 — plus accumulated interest and penalties — should be well below the maximum for any area in the U.S. The filing fees depend on the claim amount, but are typically less than $100. Because you represent yourself, you don't need to spend anything on an attorney.Ask Erica

Before doing so, however, give your ex one more opportunity to pay up. In an email (or text, if that is the only means of written communication you have), explain that if he doesn't come through with the cash he owes by a specific date, you will sue him. That alone may inspire him to scrape funds together.

Still nothing? Proceed with the lawsuit. The texts you have may be enough evidence to support your case. In the event you win, a judgment will be placed against your ex. It is possible that you'll be permitted to collect with a wage garnishment or property seizure, but do know that can be tough. Still, a judgment will appear on his credit reports for seven years, which can give you a sense that at least some justice has been served.

In the meantime, take pains to send the issuer at least the minimum requested payments. For a balance of $890, that should only be around $28. This way, you'll keep your credit report clean and relations with the issuer positive. Better still, send extra each month, so you don't drag this matter out and get hit with excessive fees. For an interest rate of 21 percent, it would take 56 months and over $500 in interest to achieve a zero balance (presuming you never made another charge) if you were to only pay the minimum. Compare that to getting rid of the debt in six months, at a cost of only about $56 in interest by sending a flat $158.

In the end, never forget that this is your personal credit card. Unless someone charges without your permission, you are liable for any balance incurred. Because the account is in your name, you are the individual who will suffer if the bill goes delinquent. At that stage, only your credit report and scores will be damaged. Miss one payment, and the issuer will notify the credit reporting agencies, causing a 30-day late note to appear on your files. Miss another and a 60-day late notation will appear, on down to 180 days late. As the months go by, the further your credit scores will drop. Then, if the issuer charges it off, not only will your score bottom out, but you'll probably have to deal with a demanding debt collector. Oh, and both the original creditor and the collection agency may sue you for the unpaid debt.

Look, many people make love-and-money mistakes at some point in their lives. That you trusted an untrustworthy person makes you human. The key is to accept your part, then learn from it so you never have to go down this rotten road again.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.