My Ex Husband Skipped Out On My Joint Credit Card Account. What Do I Do?

A reader wrote in with a unique and troublesome problem:

My ex-husband kept a joint account credit card from Lowe’s that I had forgotten we had. When I went to get a loan my credit rating showed that I had a balance of over $3,000 from that card. All the transactions were done after I was legally separated. I tried to get my name off of the card and was told that I was the co signer of the card and could not remove my name. Needless to say I now have the collection agency calling me to collect. I have not even received child support in over 3 years and cannot afford to pay the bill and should not have to. I pay my own bills and support my daughter on my own. It is not fair. Is there anything that I can do to fight this? Desperately needing help.

– Alison

In attempting to deal with this problem, you’re going to need a ton of documentation, a little luck, and some more documentation. Because this problem involves legal wranglings, it’s possible to deal with it in a systematic way that could get you a favorable result, but it’s going to take some time.

The Documents

Now, because you were legally separated (then divorced I presume because you refer to him as your ex-husband) I can only assume that there is documentation of the legal separation and the divorce. The first thing you need to do is pull together your documents from both of these events. They could prove to be very important. It’s one thing to say that you were legally separated, but it’s another to show signed documents proving that fact.

The next thing you’ll need is to call Lowe’s and ask the individual store if they keep copies of paper receipts, and, if so, for how long. Your ex-husband would have signed for those purchases, and the store may still have those receipts on file. By themselves, they only prove that he made the purchases, but in conjunction with other factors you could have a compelling case.

The next thing you want to do is substantiate your claim that you have not been receiving child support. If those payments are run through or reported to a legal representative, then you want to have a signed document from that person stating the last time you received a child support payment (thus, enhancing your argument that you truly cannot pay this debt even if it was yours to begin with.)

The People To Talk To

The first thing that you may want to do is send a letter to your ex-husband. You don’t have to call him or meet him in person (which may not be a desirable event), but sending him a letter (which creates a paper trail) stating that you have been receiving collection notices for a credit card that you didn’t use lets him know that you are aware of the card and that you are trying to resolve the situation. Politely ask that he provide receipts showing that you did not make the purchases. He may or may not come through, but you are smart to ask. In this way, you can provide documentation that shows you attempted to resolve this matter with your ex and he refused or did not respond.

If he does come through with receipts, then you have the letter stating you requested them in writing and he responded. It makes the whole thing look very official and legal.

Whether you get the receipts or not, the next person you want to speak to is the store the purchases were made at. Most companies do not keep security footage for very long, but it may come to pass that there is video footage of your ex entering the store (and, consequently none of you entering the store.) At the very least, you can ask the manager of the store to go through the receipt tape and look for signed copies of receipts where your ex made the purchases. It will be a MAJOR pain for them to do this (but this has been a major pain to you, so it will be worth it.) Ask in the most pleasant way possible and tell them everything you have told us. Also make clear that you are trying to make this right and that their help would be exceedingly appreciated. If you’re nice, that usually helps.

Whether you can find signed receipts or not, you need to know whether they exist or not because someone is going to ask if you looked for them or have them. It’s better to be able to give an honest yes or no answer to that question.

Going To The Collection Agency

You need to respond to the debt collection agency, in writing, that you have this situation, you’re attempting to work it out, and that you would appreciate time to resolve the matter before they report to a credit bureau. So, that would be smart, and most companies like that prefer you do things like that in writing.

Going Back To The Company

Now, you have to go to Lowe’s with your evidence–receipts, talking to a manager, security tapes, etc. Again, you likely want to send something in writing at first. Ask for a phone call in return so you are not playing tag by snail mail. While you’re waiting for a response, you may want to call the Lowe’s corporate office at 704-758-100 and ask to speak to someone in customer relations. Explain the situation, but also explain that you have documentation: Your legal separation documents, divorce papers, copies of receipts, whatever you have.

The legal separation papers will be very helpful. Ask them what course of action they want you to take. They may ask that you fax over the separation papers, or they may send you directly to the bank that handles their credit card. In any event, this is where you want to be–talking to the people who can fix this AND you have documentation. This does not guarantee a good outcome, but it does help.

Arguing Your Case

At this point you can only do what is asked of you–faxing documents, writing letters, etc. This is the best way to get this matter resolved. Plus, if you find that you are not successful with Lowe’s, you should go to the collection agency with the exact same information. They may be more receptive to your case and take you off the paperwork. If that does not work, you can always dispute to the credit bureau where the debt was reported. Again, this would occur with the same evidence.

All in all, I wish I could promise a good outcome, but, at the very least, these are the steps that can produce a paper trail and documentation that will help to make your case. Remember, work with Lowes, try the bank that handles the card, talk to the collection agency, or go to the credit bureau. There are about four different places where you might be able to get this resolved and each one could provide you with the outcome you’re looking for.

And, as a general point of advice to everybody out there–document, document, document. Allison’s problem is best tackled with documentation, and yours is as well.

This is a guest post from Patton at Ask Mr. Credit Card. Mr. CC and his team answer questions related to credit cards, debt and credit repair.

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