Joint Account Holder? You're Likely Stuck with that Credit Card Debt

Dear Credit Care,

My husband transferred his credit card balance to our joint credit card account without telling me. Now, he wants me to pay his debt of $10,000. Is there a possible way in which I could cancel my name off the joint credit account? 

- Sophia

Dear Sophia,

The short answer to your question is, unfortunately, no, you cannot remove your name from the joint credit card account. Nor can you cancel your joint financial responsibility to pay the account. You signed a cardholder agreement as a joint owner of the account. The only way to get out of the agreement is to pay or transfer the balance owed and close the account. (Of course, if you live in a community property state, such as California or Texas, any debt your husband accrued during your marriage would likely be your responsibility anyway -- whether you're on the card with him or not.)

As a joint owner, you do have the right and ability to close the account. This may seem like closing the barn door after the horse has run away, but it would prevent any other charges from being added to the account. You would still be responsible for paying the balance on the account, but with the account closed, you would be assured the balance would not grow without your knowledge.

What concerns me about your letter is that your husband made a financial move that affects you both without consulting you first. To help avoid marital problems, it is important to communicate. With that in mind, I would encourage you to find a mutually agreeable time to talk with your husband about your finances. Of course, you should specifically talk about what led to the transfer of a large amount of debt to your joint credit card account, but there should also be a broader discussion about your current situation and your financial goals. Try to keep the discussion on topic and avoid being accusatory. If the conversation escalates to an argument, stop and come back to the topic after things have cooled down.

Decide together how best to pay down the $10,000 in debt. If you don't already have a spending plan, now would be a great time to develop one. Accumulating that large of a debt load could mean that your husband has been extending his income using credit. Developing and following a spending plan will help you both to keep your expenses in line with your income and avoid adding to your credit card debt load.

Should your husband be unwilling to discuss the issue, you might consider consulting with an attorney to learn how to best protect your financial interests and credit. At this point, you may not want to pursue any legal actions, but it wouldn't hurt to get unbiased advice regarding your own personal finances if your husband is not willing to communicate with you.

Handle your credit with care!