When a marriage ends, it brings with it all sorts of emotional, physical and practical changes. Among those, and an important one not to overlook, is the changes it brings to finances.
“Going through a divorce can bring up a lot of emotions, and that’s normal as this is a time of transitioning into the unknown. The best way to combat fear is action, and action combined with knowledge is empowering,” said Randa Hoffman, a financial planner with Radiant Wealth Planning, LLC.
Here’s what you should know about financial matters after divorce.
Work out the debt details
During a marriage, a couple may incur small or large debts. They may purchase a house, cosign on loans, share credit cards or merge finances into joint accounts. When divorcing, the joint finances have to be divorced as well.
During a divorce, the jointly acquired property such as the house, cars and savings will be split up. But what about the debt? That too will be dealt with.
Once you know who will pay for what debts, it’s time to take charge of those expenses.
“If there are debts that you have cosigned on, it is best to try to have them refinanced so that they are only in your or your ex-spouse’s name,” Hoffman said. This is beneficial because it means that the person paying the debt will be the only one impacted if late payments are made, for instance.
And then work on paying down the debt.
“Create a plan to pay off your debt every month and look for ways to pay off more than the minimum to reduce interest,” said Chris Abrams, founder of Abrams Insurance Solutions (abramsinc.com). “I recommend speaking with a financial advisor. They can put together a repayment plan that takes into account debt from your marriage as well as legal fees.”
Establish a new budget
Your old budget — the one that factored in joint expenses and incomes (or at least compensated for it) — won’t work anymore. It’s time to create a new budget using your new expenses and single income.
“Establishing a budget at divorce is critical in ensuring you don’t overspend, especially if you’re used to living off two paychecks,” said Ben Reynolds, CEO and founder of Sure Dividend.
Grab a notebook and write down two things: the income you’ll be bringing in and the expenses you’ll have. Remember to include your rent or mortgage payment, car insurance, loan payments, credit card payments, alimony, child support and other fixed amounts. You’ll need to estimate other expenses as well such as gas, food and entertainment. Then see if your income will cover your anticipated expenses.
If the numbers aren’t working out, then it’s time to make some changes such as cutting spending or downsizing your living situation.
“You might have to significantly reduce your discretionary expenses temporarily to make sure you can afford to pay those infrequent bills like taxes,” Reynolds said. “Getting a second job or a side job might help you navigate the challenging financial situation after being divorced. An extra $300 can help you pay off any lingering debt you need to take care of that your ex-spouse was responsible for.”
Build your credit
When a marriage ends, it can be tempting to rely on credit to fill in the income gaps or handle unexpected situations. Other times, a marriage ending can mean that a partner without credit needs to build it. Whatever the case, paying attention to your credit score — and acting responsibly with your finances — is essential.
“A good credit score is key to your future. You won’t be able to purchase a home, secure loans, or even find gainful employment with a poor credit score,” said Abrams.
Start by making sure that you make loan and credit payments on time. And if your credit is particularly bad, find ways to rebuild your credit score.
“One option to rebuild your credit score is to apply for a secured credit card. These credit cards require users to back up their line of credit with a deposit,” Abrams said. “Since they limit risk for lenders, these credit cards are often available to those with poor credit scores. You can build up your credit score by making purchases and paying your card on time every month.”
You’ll also need to work on correcting any financial wrongs on your credit profile to keep your credit healthy into the future.
“You can practice more healthy spending habits by limiting your credit limit to under 30 percent, which can help rebuild any actions your ex-spouse might have taken on any joint accounts,” Reynolds said.
Don’t forget to save
Even if you’ve never had much of a savings account before, now is a good time to change that. Having money in savings means you have a cushion for life’s unexpected events. And that, in turn, will alleviate the stress of things like car repairs or medical expenses.
Including money to put into your savings in your personal budget, and follow through with it. Or, if your budget is particularly tight, kickstart your savings through other means such as selling items from your marriage that you no longer want or need.
However you do it, having a little money in savings will make life going forward a little easier.