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If you are married, separated, or divorced, and most of your credit is in your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s name only, you should start to get credit in your name, too.

Getting credit in your own name is also an excellent strategy for repairing your credit if:

  • all or most of your financial problems can be attributed to your spouse, or
  • you and your spouse have gone through financial difficulties together, but most of your credit was in your spouse’s name only.

Credit Reports and Your Spouse's Accounts

Credit reporting agencies cannot include information about your spouse’s accounts on your credit report unless:

  • it’s a joint account
  • you are permitted to use the account (for example, you are an authorized user on the account), or
  • you are otherwise responsible for payment on the account (for example, because you guaranteed or cosigned a loan, and for most debts during a marriage in a community property state).

Practically speaking, this means that many of your spouse’s credit accounts will appear in your credit history. If your spouse’s credit is good, having those accounts show up in your credit history is good for you. On the other hand, if your spouse’s credit is poor, you want creditors to know if you were not responsible on those accounts. 

It also means that if you are divorced or separated and most of the loans and credit cards you acquired during the marriage were in your spouse’s name only, you won’t have a lengthy history of good credit in your report.

How to Build Credit in Your Own Credit Report

Here are the steps to take to start building good credit in your own name.

Request That All Accounts Be Included in Your Credit History

If you are still married, and the accounts are in good standing, you can start by making sure that all joint accounts, accounts you are permitted to use, and accounts that you are obligated to pay appear on your credit report, too. If you are divorced, you can still make sure that those accounts were reported under your name for the time period during your marriage. 

Send a written request to any nationwide credit reporting agency that does not include those accounts in your credit report. Identify the joint accounts and accounts on which you are responsible to pay or you are permitted to use that you want to be added to your credit history. If you are divorced, identify the time period to which your request applies.

In addition to the general rules requiring credit reporting agencies to reinvestigate your dispute, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA ) requires credit reporting agencies to add those accounts to your credit history within 90 days of your written request.

Ask Creditors to Consider Your Spouse’s Credit History

Although a credit reporting agency cannot include information about your spouse’s positive credit accounts on your credit report (except for joint accounts, and accounts you are permitted to use or obliged to pay), if you are applying for a loan, credit card, or other type of credit, you can always ask the creditor to consider any of your spouse’s or former spouse’s accounts that accurately reflect favorably on your creditworthiness, too. For example, if you and your former spouse made payments on your spouse’s account with joint checks, provide the creditor copies of the joint account checks. 

If a creditor considers credit histories in making its credit decisions, the ECOA requires a creditor to consider information you present about your spouse’s or former spouse’s accounts that accurately reflects your creditworthiness. 

Ask Creditors Not to Consider Your Spouse’s Credit History

If your spouse caused credit problems on joint accounts or on accounts you were permitted to use or responsible to pay, you can present information to a potential creditor to show why the account does not reflect your creditworthiness. For example, if you were unemployed, but you could not ensure that your spouse, who was working, paid the bills, you could provide documentation to show the creditor why the poor credit history should not be attributed to you. Or if you were only an authorized user and were not responsible under the credit agreement (or under state law, such as with community property laws) to pay on the account, you could present that information to the creditor. 

If the creditor considers credit histories in making its credit decisions, the ECOA requires the creditor to consider the information you present. 

Excerpted from Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard (Nolo).

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