I recently got out of a two-year relationship with someone I thought was “the one.” I’ve been in a few long-term relationships, and my No. 1 rule has always been to not mix our finances.
Since I was blinded by love with this last guy, I broke my No. 1 rule and helped him financially. I co-signed on two personal loans, his car, his apartment, and we have a credit card together, which he has almost maxed out.
He does make the monthly payments for all of these on time. However, I’m trying to work on my own finances now and have noticed that my credit score has dropped 100 points, and I keep getting turned down for loans to help consolidate my own debt.
What can I do to raise my credit score and pay off my own debt? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Blinded by Love
Blinded by Love,
You think you’ve found the one, you think it’s going to be forever, and then you start merging your finances without fully understanding the long-term impact of that sharing-is-caring mindset.
It even happens to the strongest and most stubborn of us, like you. You had a rule, and over time this guy was able to wheedle you away from your convictions.
I don’t need to tell you that you shouldn’t have broken your personal rule. We just have to deal with right now.
There’s a practical side and an emotional side of getting back on track, and neither of them are pretty. But let’s get started.
Being released from your co-signer duties is unlikely, but possible. Student loan servicers typically offer information about the co-signer release process; for credit cards and other loans, you’ll need to take the first step to ask about your options.
The basic life elements you backed (apartment, car) indicate that your ex was financially… how should we say?… stressed. What’s his life like now? Has he made enough reliable payments for his rent and car loan to prove he doesn’t need a co-signer anymore? If so, it’s worth asking. If he won’t do it, you as a co-signer have the right to check into the status of those accounts.
As for the credit card, there’s no hope of getting out of that responsibility. Make sure you keep getting statements and have access to the account until it’s completely paid off.
You note that your ex is making timely payments for all his debts, which is a saving grace for both your credit scores. He may be able to transfer his credit card debt to another card, preferably one that has a zero-interest introductory period.
Once the joint card is clear, close it and wash your hands. Your credit score might take a temporary dip for closing a card, but the reduction of overall debt in your name will have a deeper impact on your credit score in the long run.
If you’re stuck on these accounts for as long as you both shall live (OK, just until the debts are paid off and he moves), it’s your duty to keep records like a hawk. Make sure you’re getting statements online or by mail. It is your right as a co-signer to be aware of what’s happening with these account balances.
The emotional side:
You’re going to have to keep the lines of communication open with your ex until further notice. It is not your job to police your ex’s spending habits or force him to shore up his budget to get the debt paid off faster. That’s his own business.
But you’re going to have to keep in touch to make sure the accounts are in good order and that he’s making progress toward extricating you from these financial obligations.
You’ll need to have a conversation (or two or three or four) to figure out what your options are for either removing you from these accounts or maintaining them until they can be closed.
Once you’ve nailed down an action plan, make an agreement for how you’ll communicate updates or questions about the joint and co-signed accounts. This kind of communication doesn’t need to pretend that you’re friends if you’re not. It just needs to be clear.
Maybe he’s fine with you checking in on these accounts with him as often as you would like, but he’d prefer it by email instead of text or phone calls. Maybe you only want to discuss the accounts when statements arrive each month, and you’d like to review them in person over coffee.
Whatever works for the two of you, do it and stick to it. Print out a brief agreement about how to communicate about this list of accounts and sign it. Be accountable to each other with equal parts responsibility and respect.
Bringing your own finances back from a boil to a low simmer is going to take a while, even if you’re able to separate your finances from your ex’s ASAP.
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