Divorce Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Credit Score!

While the act of separating and/or getting divorced from your spouse won’t affect your credit score on its own, it is likely to cause indirect damage to your finances. So, while there won’t be a giant mark on your credit report that says “GOT DIVORCED, automatic 100 point deduction,” your score can and will begin to drop after a divorce if you aren’t hyper-aware of the potential damage.

In order to take proactive steps to maintain a good or excellent credit score during and after a divorce, you first have to know what you’re up against. Some of the biggest factors that cause divorcees financial strife include:

  • Suddenly dropping from two incomes to one income
  • Joint debt that goes unpaid by your soon-to-be ex-spouse
  • Shared bank accounts that can be drained by either party
  • Spiteful actions of one spouse, like running up a joint credit card balance
  • Lack of an independent financial identity and/or credit history
  • Divorce expenses
  • Child support and/or alimony

Even if the split is something that will ultimately make you happier, the process of getting to that end goal is undoubtedly going to be stressful. It is much easier to miss a bill payment or make other financial errors when you are stressed to the max.

Why is My Credit Score so Important After Divorce?

Losing a few credit score points shouldn’t make or break anyone, right? In many situations, this may be true. However, for those people who are going through a divorce, maintaining a solid credit score is IMPERATIVE.

You may need to buy or rent, initiate utility services for, and completely furnish a new home. In order to do so, your credit must be fair to good at minimum (ideally in the upper 600s or above).

Additionally, many divorcees seek higher-paying jobs in order to make up for the second income that was lost in the split. These days, it is common practice for employers to check the credit history of all potential hires before extending a job offer. If your score tanks during or after your divorce, it may prove difficult to make even a lateral employment move.

What Can I Do to Maintain a Good Credit Score After my Divorce?

As soon as you know that divorce is in the cards, your first move should be getting a current credit report from each reporting agency. This will allow you to know precisely what debts and recurring payments are officially your responsibility as opposed to your spouse’s.

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.” ~ Will Durant

After you have current credit reports in hand, it’s important that you take smart action based on the information contained in your report(s). For example, you may not have realized that your spouse listed you as an ‘authorized user’ on a credit card. If the card’s balance gets maxed out due to extra expenses during your divorce and your ex-spouse stops making payments, you could be held responsible for the balance. In addition to removing yourself from any joint accounts, you should:

  • Create an amended budget using your adjusted spending limit.
  • Make it a priority to make all of your payments on time.
  • Closely monitor any accounts that you’re unable to separate immediately.
  • Get educated on the topic of good financial habits.
  • Seek the help of a financial advisor or NJ credit repair attorney, if needed.

 

 

 

 

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Can I be Evicted Due to my Roommate’s Poor Credit?

Moving in with a roommate can be a great way to split expenses – both rent and utilities. It can also be an extremely fun time in your life as you venture out on your own and begin to explore the world as an adult.

Naturally, deciding to live with someone, whether in your early 20s or later in life, is a big decision and one that must be taken seriously. It’s in your best interest to make sure that the person you choose to live with is trustworthy and easy to get along with. Failure to take the time to find a roommate who meets these criteria can lead to a very miserable living situation.

However, the single most important trait to look for in a potential roommate is financially responsibility. The following “red flags” indicate a deficiency in the money department and should give you significant pause in selecting your cohabitant:

  • Poor credit score (under 620)
  • History of being evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities
  • Frequent moves from one rental to another – This indicates that they may be more likely to break the lease they sign with you.
  • Tells “horror” stories about all past roommates – The whole “it’s not me, it’s them” scenario – if it keeps repeating itself in someone’s life, this is probably not a person you want to live with.
  • Poor references – Ask potential roommates if you can get in touch with someone they used to live with. Today, this can be as simple as a Facebook introduction and a five minute online chat. Look for answers about paying rent, utilities and security deposits as well as paying for any damages that occurred during the length of their lease.
  • Doesn’t hold a steady job or is only employed part-time – Make sure that they pull in more than enough income to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
  • Inability to put down a deposit

If you plan to apply for a joint lease once you find the right roommate, the property owner (landlord) will almost certainly check both of your credit scores. Even if you have a sparkling credit history and a high score, a landlord can decide not to rent to you if your roommate has dings on their credit report.

Typically, landlords won’t turn away potential renters who only have a few dings in their credit history, but if your roommate is saddled with a significant amount of debt, their credit score has likely suffered because of it.

Perhaps you already have an apartment rental and you want to take on a roommate without adding their name to the lease. Depending on the language of your specific lease agreement, you may be required to add any official occupants’ names to the lease. If this is the case, your new roommate’s credit score can prevent them from joining you in your rental.

Knowing that your possible bunkmate has a dubious financial history, you may be tempted to lie by omission and have them “move in” without officially telling your landlord. While this may temporarily avoid a credit check, it may end in disaster if your landlord discovers your covert roommate. If this happens, you and your undisclosed roommate will likely be evicted for failure to follow the rules set out in the lease agreement.

If you feel that you have been evicted unjustly, you should make yourself aware of your rights as a New Jersey tenant.

 

Image: “Moving Day Boxes” by Nicolas Huk – licensed under CC by 2.0

I Received a NJ Bankruptcy Discharge: Now What?

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Having all or many of your debts erased in a New Jersey chapter 7 bankruptcy is referred to as a bankruptcy discharge. Most people filing for chapter 7 feel a great relief when their discharge is granted.

While you are deeply immersed in the bankruptcy process, it can be easy to view your discharge as the finish line. However, once you’ve passed that finish line, you’ll have new goals to reach for, and achieving these goals will be the true measure of your future financial success.

After bankruptcy, you’ll be aiming for repairing your credit score, which will take a hit when your bankruptcy is reported. Lenders will want to see that your credit score is slowly rising post-bankruptcy. While this isn’t always easy to do, it’s definitely not impossible. You can:

Apply for a secured credit card – While significantly different from a traditional credit card, secured cards are backed-up by money you pay up front. While few banks will see you as an ideal borrower right after bankruptcy, some offer secured card programs to borrowers who need help rebuilding their credit. This is a temporary solution that you should only use until your score rises enough to make you eligible for a traditional credit card.

Apply for a secured loan – This type of loan typically involves a credit union or a local community bank. You can either “borrow” from funds that you supply to your own loan account, or borrow money wherein you must make certain necessary payments before any funds will be released to you. While not a typical loan, these baby steps help your credit score because your loan activity will appear on your credit report, helping other lenders to see that you’re moving in the right direction.

Ask a family member to co-sign a loan or credit card – It’s true that we typically do not advise our clients to co-sign loans for friends or family members. A co-signer is putting a lot of faith into you, because they are essentially letting you “borrow” their good credit. The only times we recommend considering co-signing is after bankruptcy and when you truly have zero other options.

Request to be an authorized user – An alternative to finding someone to co-sign a loan or credit card is to request to be listed as an authorized user on a family member’s credit card. This is probably the option that will have the least positive effect on your credit score, but it can help a little bit. However, ensure that the lender in question reports all payment activity to credit bureaus for all authorized users, not just the main account holder.

As you begin your journey post-bankruptcy, the most important thing you do will be to make every single payment you owe to anyone ON TIME. This includes the aforementioned secured loans as well as utility bills and any other monthly expenses. Bankruptcy discharge should have given you a huge break from significant debts, leaving you with enough money to pay for your living expenses with a little bit left over each month. This means there are no more excuses for late payments.

When we work with a bankruptcy client, we also offer credit repair assistance after your discharge. If you’ve received your NJ bankruptcy discharge and you’re still struggling, we’re here to help you figure it all out.

Image credit: John Eisenschenk

Evicted with No Lease in NJ: Will it Damage My Credit?

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If you’re a renter in New Jersey, you may have signed a long and detailed lease with your landlord. Rental leases are used to set out specific terms that must be adhered to by the tenant(s) as well as the landlord (property owner). Signing a lease can give renters the security of a guaranteed place to live for a specified length of time. A lease also stipulates the amount of monthly rent to be paid to the property owner throughout the duration of the contract.

Can I move in with my friend without signing his lease?

Oftentimes, a rental lease specifies whether or not the tenant may take on a roommate during their stay in the rental property. Some leases require that any new roommates sign their name to the lease; however it is more commonly found that tenants can obtain a roommate without having them sign anything.

If you are a roommate who has been living in a rental without having signed any lease paperwork, you may have questions about your rights. Since the original tenant signed the lease, he or she has a clear understanding of their renter’s rights. Although you don’t have the benefit of a written lease, since you are renting in New Jersey, you have what is known as a verbal lease.

Non-leased renters in NJ who are staying in a rental unit with the permission of the property owner are granted an automatic 30-day verbal lease. The oral agreement you and the original tenant formulate with your landlord constitute the contents of your verbal lease. Naturally, verbal leases are much more difficult to uphold, and tend to be quite problematic.

It is recommended that you get some kind of written agreement from your landlord so that you don’t end up in court over what may very well be an inconsequential issue. Landlord/tenant disputes can turn into bitter court battles, and without anything in writing, you’ll have a much harder time defending yourself and your position as a non-leased renter.

Can a landlord evict a tenant who doesn’t have a written lease?

Property owners can definitely evict tenants without a written lease in place, but the process is a lot messier for all parties involved. Whether you moved in with a leased renter or if you were simply granted verbal permission to stay in a property with no lease, you are not safe from eviction.

There are a myriad of reasons that justify evicting a renter of any kind, including:

  • Violation of health, safety or conduct laws
  • Damaged property
  • Missed or habitually late rent payment(s)
  • Illegal activity (drug use, assault) in the rental property
  • Theft or destruction of landlord’s property
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Decision of property owner to stop renting

Even if you did not sign a written lease, you can be evicted for any of the above reasons.

Will an eviction damage my credit score?

Generally, being evicted in New Jersey will not be indicated on your credit report. However, unpaid rent or lawsuits that were filed against you by the landlord may show up on your credit history. Additionally, the next time you apply to rent an apartment in NJ or elsewhere, your new landlord or property manager is likely to perform a background screening, during which they may discover that you’ve been evicted before.

Image credit: Angela Rutherford

Why Did My Credit Score Drop?

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If you have a pretty solid credit history and have recently had an unexpected drop in your credit score, you naturally want to know what happened. Whether it dropped by 10 points or 100, it’s important to fully understand all of the factors that can cause your credit score to rise and fall.

Most people know that major financial events like foreclosure and bankruptcy are surefire ways to knock significant points off anyone’s credit score. What’s less common knowledge, however, is that there are quite a few other reasons for a declining credit score. The more you familiarize yourself with everything that goes into calculating your credit score, the better equipped you’ll be to bring yours back up again.

1. High balances. Even if you’re really good about paying your monthly credit card bills, carrying a significant balance on several cards will bring your credit score down. Put yourself on an “unnecessary spending” freeze and throw as much money as possible at your existing debt, with the goal of getting as close to a $0 balance as you can. At the very most, you should keep your credit card balance(s) under 30% of your credit limit. This tells potential lenders that you aren’t fully reliant on credit cards, and makes you less of a credit “risk.”

2. Late payments. Although this one seems fairly obvious, it’s possible that you’ve had 1 or 2 late payments and not thought much of it. Unfortunately, sometimes being just 30-60 days late paying a single bill can hit your score kind of hard. What’s most surprising is that your score may drop more substantially if it was the first time you ever missed a payment. To avoid missing any more payments, try to set up automated bill pay for as many bills as possible. For all others, set payment reminders on your phone or personal calendar.

3. New loan applications. If you have recently applied for a car loan, mortgage, or even a new credit card, the lender will have done what is called a “hard credit inquiry.” These types of inquiries will cause your score to drop only slightly if you only have a few done over an extended period of time. However, multiple hard inquiries suggest that you may be desperately applying for loans and getting turned down repeatedly. The more hard inquiries you have, the higher the impact on your score. Try to limit who does a hard credit check on you by being selective about applying for loans. Do your research and be sure that you will likely be approved before applying so that the number of people who need to check your credit history is low.

It is important to mention here that you cannot damage your credit score by simply checking your own score.  In fact, some lenders will accept a very recent copy of your credit report instead of doing another check on their own. This is another way you can prevent your score from dropping. If you are planning to apply for a new car loan, request your credit report and score immediately before going to the car dealership. Present them with your credit report and ask them to use it in their decision making process. It never hurts to ask!

4. Closed accounts. In working hard to pay down your debts, you may go ahead and completely close out a credit card account once you pay off the balance. Some people do this thinking it will prevent them from acquiring more debt since the account won’t even exist anymore. Though that may seem like a good idea, doing so will actually negatively affect your credit score! Lenders like to see that you have a long (positive) history of handling your debts. Cancelled accounts essentially cease to exist on your credit report, so it may give lenders the idea that your credit history doesn’t extend very far into the past. The best thing to do is to pay down your credit card balances but keep the account(s) open so that the ‘proof’ of your credit-worthiness remains for all to see on your credit report.

Keep a close eye on your credit report and score once you’ve made some of the positive changes suggested above. If your score doesn’t improve within several months, or continues to drop, seek credit counseling assistance from a licensed NJ credit repair attorney. Your credit score is extremely important, and ignoring a declining score can end up being a very costly mistake.

Image Credit: W. Rashdanothman