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Who owes what on a joint account?

You and your spouse start up a joint credit card account. You run up $5,000 in debt. Now you're wondering who is responsible for what portion of the payments.

Since it is a joint account, does that mean you split the debt in half? Do you owe $2,500, while your spouse also owes $2,500? How do the lenders look at these accounts?

The way they look at them is simple: You both owe 100 percent of the debt. They do not care who pays. They do not divide it up at all. When you sign that contract, you agree that you will pay off everything on the card. So does your spouse. One of you eventually has to do so. It does not get divided at all.

If your spouse cannot pay the $5,000, you cannot just pay $2,500 and say that you took care of your portion. You still owe the other $2,500. The lender sees you as one couple that owes them money, not two people who each owe them money.

You may think this does not matter; if you're married, won't you work together to pay off that debt anyway? That's true in a perfect world, but what if you're separated? What if your spouse leaves the family? What if the two of you decide to get divorced?

That's when it is important to know what your obligations look like and what you will need to pay in the future. It may also be important to look into your debt relief options, especially when you suddenly find yourself with more debt than you anticipated.

Source: Life Hacker, "How to Protect Your Credit When You Marry Into Debt," Kristin Wong, accessed May 10, 2018

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