Paycheck Chronicles

The Case for Separate Credit Cards


Today, I'm going to tell you why I think that you and your spouse should have separate credit card accounts.  I know that there are some people who will disagree with me, and others who believe that you should never have any credit cards at all.  It is my opinion that a properly used credit card can be a useful tool, and that the benefits are increased if each spouses maintains their own accounts.

Here's why:

  1. While it is easier to just pay one bill each month, having separate accounts will make your life much easier if your wallet (or entire identity) is stolen.  Last year, someone took my husband's things from a gym locker.  After canceling his cards, he had to get a new drivers license, over the internet because we don't live in the state from which his driver's license is issued.  Ordering the license required a credit card and because we have separate accounts, he was able to use my credit card to get a new license.  Were our accounts together, canceling his card would have inactivated mine until new numbers were issued.  It was a minor inconvenience, but imagine if this had happened while we were traveling or PCSing.  What a pain that would have been!  I know that there are ways to pay for hotel rooms without a credit card, but mid-move isn't the time that I want to figure out how to manage that.  Extend this small example of a stolen wallet to a widespread case of identity theft and I believe it is easy to see how helpful it would be to have your account separate while you are sorting out the chaos of someone using your personal information.
  2. If you have already established a good credit history, opening and closing of accounts will negatively affect your credit score.  Eventually it will recover, but it may take a long time.  You particularly do not want to close your oldest accounts, as the length of that account makes up a sizable portion of your credit score.
  3. If you are separated, divorced or widowed, your financial situation may be very challenging for a while.  The tumultuous times of divorce or death are not the right time for you to be trying to build up a credit history.  It is not fun to think about, but unless you and your spouse were to die at the same time, all of us will be managing our own money for some period of time.  When my grandmother was widowed, she was very unpleasantly surprised to discover that she didn't have any credit in her own name.  All of the family's credit accounts had been issued in my grandfather's name.  She was very fortunate that she had the time to slowly build up a credit history without any large life events, such as the purchase of a new home, in the meantime.
  4. As long as we're on unpleasant subjects, maintaining separate credit can provide you with some safety in the event your spouse were to suddenly begin making bad financial decisions.  Depending on your exact situation, you may not be liable for credit card bills run up by your partner if you are not attached to the account.
I have friends who are convinced that having separate credit card accounts shows a lack of trust or even some bigger issue.  For me, it is a sensible and useful way to make sure that both partners are building positive credit histories, as well as helping to make our lives run as smoothly as possible.

What do you think?

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