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Did your credit score take a hit after you got a divorce? Here's how you can rebuild it

Divorce doesn't inherently lower your credit score, but changes in your financial obligations might.

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While it's always important to monitor your credit score and look for ways to improve it, these steps may be extra beneficial if you've gotten a divorce and need a way to rebuild your credit.

The act of getting a divorce doesn't inherently lower your credit score, but changes in your financial obligations (or former partner's) as a result of a divorce might. Having to take on debts that you didn't previously need to face alone could impact your finances and your score if you're finding it hard to keep up. Or maybe your ex-spouse was an authorized user on some of your credit cards and has been racking up debt that you're responsible for paying off.

Regardless of the situation, if you find that your credit score needs some improvement after your divorce, there are a few steps you can take to put it on the right track.

1. Resolve joint debts with your ex-spouse

If you and your ex-spouse took on joint debts, you'll want to figure out who will be responsible for each debt once you're divorced, as well as which debt accounts you'll want to close.

Maybe you were able to comfortably afford all monthly payments when you were living on two incomes, but since you've separated, it has been a bit harder to pay all of the debts on your own. Failure to pay on-time payments in full can result in your credit score taking a hit — and this can impact what loans, mortgages and credit cards you can take out in the future. This is why it's important to divvy up any debts you and your ex took on together.

An important first step for doing this is to be aware of what's on your credit report. You can use a free credit monitoring service like Experian to look at your credit report and credit score regardless of whether or not you're going through a divorce. This will help you figure out what loans and credit cards are under your name, even if it was a joint debt that you and your ex-spouse accepted together. There are also more comprehensive credit monitoring services like IdentityForce® which offer security features like identity theft insurance on top of three-bureau credit monitoring and credit score updates.

Experian Dark Web Scan + Credit Monitoring

On Experian's secure site
  • Cost

    Free

  • Credit bureaus monitored

    Experian

  • Credit scoring model used

    FICO®

  • Dark web scan

    Yes, one-time only

  • Identity insurance

    No

Terms apply.

IdentityForce® UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit

On Identity Force's secure site
  • Cost

    UltraSecure+Credit Individual starts at $139.90/yr and UltraSecure+Credit Family at $209/yr. Click "Learn More" for details.

  • Credit bureaus monitored

    Experian, Equifax and TransUnion

  • Credit scoring model used

    VantageScore 3.0

  • Dark web scan

    Yes

  • Identity insurance

    Yes, $1 million for all plans

Terms apply. To learn more about IdentityForce®, visit their website or call 855-979-1118. 

2. Continue making on-time monthly payments

Paying your bills on time is the most important thing you can do to help raise your score

FICO and VantageScore, which are two of the main credit card scoring models, both view payment history as the most influential factor when determining a person's credit score. From a lender's perspective, a person's ability to keep up with their credit card payments indicates that they're capable of taking out a loan or line of credit and paying it back.

But your credit score isn't just impacted by your credit card bills. You need to pay all your bills on time. That includes all your utilities, student loan debt and any medical bills you might have — all expenses that you may have previously split with your ex-spouse.

So when it comes to managing your payments while going through divorce proceedings, make sure joint bills and debts are still being paid — even if a judge rules that your ex-spouse should be responsible for taking on some of those debts alone. This is because the debt will still be a part of your credit report. So even if your spouse is technically responsible for making the payments going forward, a missed payment on their part can still hurt your credit score until you remove that debt from your report.

At the very least, just see to it that the minimum required amount is paid monthly for all of your debts. Setting up autopay for your debts and bills can make it easy to make those payments on time since you won't have to worry about accidentally forgetting to make a payment one month.

3. Establish your own credit history if you haven't already done so

Lenders check your credit history any time you want to apply for a new credit product, like a loan or credit card. Applicants with a good or excellent credit score can be approved for loans or credit cards with the most favorable terms, like a lower interest rate. So if you've only been an authorized user on your ex-spouse's credit cards and don't have credit cards or loans in your own name, once you're removed from their lines of credit your score might take a hit.

Establishing your own lines of credit can help you rebuild your credit score over time as long as you're taking responsible actions with it. There are quite a few credit cards aimed at applicants who need to build their credit score. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card has no annual fee and earns 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter. Plus, you'll earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases, so the card is a solid way to help you build your credit score while getting rewarded for it.

And if you're a little more interested in travel rewards, the U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card helps you earn 4X points per dollar spent on dining, 2X points per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations and streaming services and 1X points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. Like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, this one is also great for those who need help building their credit.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A on purchases

  • Regular APR

    23.24% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    New / Rebuilding

*See rates and fees, terms apply.

U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card

Information about the U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa® Secured Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    4X points per dollar spent on dining, 2X points per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations and streaming services and 1X points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. Cardmembers are also eligible for a $15 credit for annual streaming service purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    None

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    26.24%

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Poor/None

4. Keep your credit utilization low

Credit utilization is the percentage of the total credit you're using, also known as amounts owed. Your credit utilization is the second-most important factor of your credit score (behind payment history), so it's therefore essential to learn all you can about maintaining a healthy ratio.

The general rule of thumb is to keep a credit utilization below 30%, but a FICO study found that "high-achievers" — consumers with credit scores 750 and above — use less than 10% of their total available credit limit. You should aim to keep your credit utilization rate as low as possible in order to avoid hurting your credit score, but not necessarily as low as 0%.

Even if you've racked up high balances on your credit cards, beginning to pay them off can lower your utilization rate. You can use a balance transfer credit card to consolidate multiple credit card balances into one. And since balance transfer cards usually come with an introductory period where you can make interest-free payments for a limited time, you might be able to lower your debt balance much faster. The Citi Simplicity® Card, for example, offers a 0% intro APR period for 21 months on balance transfers from the date of first transfer (after, 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR), and the Citi® Double Cash Card allows you to have 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months (after, 14.74% - 24.74% variable APR). For both cards, all transfers must be completed in the first 4 months.

Citi Simplicity® Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for 21 months on balance transfers; 0% for 12 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    15.49% - 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.74% - 24.74% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    For balance transfers completed within 4 months of account opening, an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies; after that, a balance transfer fee of 5% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

Bottom line

There's a lot that can occur when getting a divorce and at times, the process can feel even more stressful when it comes to the impact on your finances and credit score. You may find yourself in a place where you'll need to rebuild your credit score after you've separated.

Understanding your credit report, establishing your own lines of credit and continuing to make on-time monthly payments can all have a positive impact on your credit score. Additionally, you might look for ways to keep your credit utilization rate low. You won't see positive changes over night, but in time these steps can really pay off.

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For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card , click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.