Losing your spouse is hard enough. But some surviving spouses also discover that they lose their ability to get credit as well. This is because they have no independent credit history since all of the couple’s credit cards and loans were in the name of the deceased spouse.
For many women, in particular, this can be a shocking discovery. But if a woman did not work outside the home, never had a credit card in her own name, and has no record of an independent income, she runs the risk of having her credit cards cancelled after the death of her spouse, or loans denied, even if she’s been well provided for and has enough income to live comfortably.
In 2011, new federal rules actually made it harder for non-working spouses to get credit cards, because it required credit card companies to look at an individual’s own salary and income (and not the household’s income) to decide whether or not they qualified. This caused so much trouble, that the rules were changed, and now credit card companies can consider the household’s income for anyone over 21 years old who applies for credit.
To create your own, independent credit history, either before or after a spouse has died, here are some things that you can do:
- Apply for a credit card in your own name. Use it responsibly and pay off your balance on time.
- Check your credit history annually. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the national credit agencies to give you a free report each year. To order your credit history, go to CreditReport.com.
- Limit yourself to a few credit cards. Having more than a few cards can harm your credit score and increases the chances that you’ll accidentally pay one or more of the bills late.