How to Manage Joint Debt to Improve Your Credit
Talking to your creditors is hard, but talking to your sweetie about money may be even more daunting. Dealing with joint debt isn’t necessarily twice as difficult as dealing with debt alone — it can be 20 times harder! If you’re trying to keep your bad credit from getting worse and you have some joint debt, you may feel as though your situation is out of control. And it may be.
The most helpful tool at your disposal is communication. Here’s what you and your partner need to discuss:
Agreeing on goals: Starting here is important. This conversation is about the future, and setting goals gives you a shared future that you both buy into as the impetus to make some changes. Goals may include saving for college tuition, retirement, or vacations. In the goal-setting process, you don’t have to be specific the first time around.
After you get through all the steps that follow, go back to the goals and put a price tag and date on each. Then rework the plan to see how many goals you can fit in and what needs to be cut or delayed. Keep in mind that goals change over time. Refer to these shared goals as you continue talking.
Eliminating debt: You’re trying to keep bad credit from getting worse, so determining the best way to eliminate debt is a priority. How much can you allot each month to paying off debt? While paying down debt, agree that neither one of you will add to credit card balances.
Paying bills: If possible, pay bills together so you both know how much you owe each month and where your money is going. Decisions that need to be made, such as how much to pay on a particular credit card balance, can be made together.
Keeping track of payments: Make sure that you both record all checking account transactions in one place so that you can keep up with your balance. The same goes for using your ATM or debit card; you both need to record expenses. If you have separate accounts, decide who pays what and let each other know how things go with your respective bills.
Saving: Come to an agreement as to how much you can afford to put aside in savings each month. Early in your financial life, you may save only $5 or $10 a paycheck. But the key is to start a habit; savings do add up over time.
With good feelings flowing and a plan in place, make a commitment with your partner to track your progress, communicate regularly about your finances, and avoid making large purchases without discussing them first.