Dear Debt Adviser, I am about to get a divorce. I share about $50,000 in unsecured debt with my soon-to-be ex-husband. I get the feeling he won't help me pay what we owe, and I need to know my options. I'm retired, 63 years old, unemployed, and I have an individual retirement account. Should I try credit counseling? If so, how do you know if the counseling agency is reputable? Then there is the option of bankruptcy, but I'm worried about what it will do to my credit. Please help. I'm about to go under. -- Belita
Dear Belita, Divorce is never easy. And yours is complicated by financial issues, unemployment and starting over late in life.
But don't worry. You can do a few things right now that will help.
First, find an attorney who has experience with divorces. Then, look for a financial planner who can help you understand the financial aspects of your divorce. A financial planner can help you get a fair division of assets and liabilities, explain the long-term effects of a divorce settlement and organize your budget.
When searching for a financial planner, pick one with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or CDFA, designation. Planners with a CDFA designation receive specialized training to help people who are going through a divorce.
From a credit standpoint, I recommend you close any joint credit card accounts to prevent any additional charges. Tell your husband before you do this -- that's only fair -- and then act quickly. Then, I would encourage you to make it a condition of the divorce that the balances on those accounts be divided equitably between the two of you and transferred to individual accounts in each of your names. By doing so, you will protect your credit if your husband stops paying his share of the debt. He'd be ruining his credit by not paying, not yours.
It also wouldn't hurt to visit with a reputable, nonprofit credit counseling agency, especially if you will be carrying a sizable debt with limited ability to make your payments. You can find a list of reputable credit counseling agencies at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. A certified counselor will review your financial situation and help you determine how best to handle that unsecured debt.
Make these moves, and you'll gain more control over your financial future.
Copyright 2012, Bankrate Inc.