This article originally appeared in FORBES.
By its very nature, in a divorce, you lose control over many of the things that governed your life with your spouse and your children. Where you live, how often you see your kids, what you do with your time and so many more parts of your life change, whether you like it or not.
While you may feel you don’t have a direct say in how these things turn out, there are other areas where you can take definitive steps to materially impact that part of your life. One of the most important of these is how your credit may be affected during and after a divorce.
Karma And Credit Do Not Play Well Together
There are many similar definitions of karma, but essentially, it means that your intent and your actions influence your future. It’s a somewhat more complicated version of cause and effect, but the end result is the same.
As it relates to your credit in a divorce, the actions you take (or don’t take) will have a direct effect on the outcome of your financial future as a single person. If you take no actions, uninformed actions or the wrong actions, the resulting outcomes will boomerang right back on you in ways you probably will not like.
Leaving credit to fend against karma is bad, especially when there are specific things you can do to protect yourself.
Four Bad-Karma-Busting Steps You Can Take
1. Access your credit report as early as possible.
You need to make sure you pull a credit report that has a complete list of tradelines, instead of one that just gives you your credit score.
You can purchase a credit report from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, which are the three primary credit bureaus, or you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can access a free copy of your credit report every 12 months as required by federal law.
This is part of an overall larger strategy to know what your actual obligations are. You’re going to have to disclose your financial information to your spouse for your divorce, so you’ll be gathering this as part of your process. As you do so, take note of anything that would appear on your credit report. This can include credit cards, auto loans, home loans, a secured line of credit and so forth.
2. Have a clear understanding of which spouse is responsible for each debt.
In some cases, the debt will be considered separate, and in other cases, both spouses may be jointly accountable.
To avoid credit chaos, it’s imperative that all debts continue to be paid in a timely manner. Even if you’re not the spouse responsible for paying the debt, if payments are not made on time and the debt is still in your name, your credit could be impacted as well as your spouse’s. Unless you are legally released, you still have a responsibility by law to pay debts that both of you accrued while you were married.
In many cases, when a divorce takes place, creditors will close joint accounts and require the balances to be paid off over time. If you have reached a settlement with your spouse regarding who is responsible for a particular debt, you can contact the creditor and renegotiate the debt in your name alone or in your spouse’s name if the obligation is deemed to be theirs.
3. Start building a new credit profile in your name only.
Set up various types of credit accounts, and build a healthy credit history exclusively using your own resources. So that you don’t take a hit early on, experts advise that you should not borrow more than 50% of the total credit that’s available to you.
If you do not have an extensive credit history or no history at all because your spouse controlled all of the family finances, you’ll need to take small steps to build your own credit-worthiness. One way to do this is to obtain a secured credit card. A secured card is basically a low-limit credit card that requires the holder to maintain collateral equal to the amount of credit on the card in an account with the issuer. For example, if you wanted a secured card with a $300 limit, you would need to place $300 in an account with the credit card issuer to secure your card usage.
4. Work diligently to correct any inaccuracies.
Having the best credit possible is a critical part of your post-divorce survival. A lot of things change in a divorce, and it’s easy for mistakes to be made with so much going on. Just be sure to monitor your credit history and your profile on a regular basis, and take aggressive steps to fix anything that is not accurate.
The moral of the story is simple:
Don’t leave your credit to karma. Take control of your post-divorce life by making informed decisions along the way, and maintain a proactive approach to organizing your finances. This doesn’t just apply to assets — it applies to your debts, too.