I’m Sorry I Got My Financial House in Order (Said No One Ever)
Like a lot of us, you may think you have, or will have, a great marriage that will stand the test of time. And we hope you’re right! The reality is that women who take a few steps to shore up their financials often have stronger marriages because of it, and they’re also protected in case things don’t go as planned. So, here are 8 things every working woman should do – just in case she faces divorce.
No matter what your situation, I know divorce isn’t easy. If you’ve decided to end your marriage – or it’s decided for you – it might feel like you need to tackle a million things right away. Let me tell you, when it comes to this, decisions made in haste are usually poor ones, and most decisions do not have to be finalized today. That being said, there are some tactical things you should do pretty quickly once you decide to separate, or even before. While most of these are straightforward, if at all in doubt, check the law in your state before proceeding.
If I can leave every woman with one piece of advice, it’s this: protect yourself. Understand your money. Take control of your accounts, and establish your own access to credit. You’ll never be sorry you did.
8 specific actions I recommend you take to protect yourself:
1. Check your own credit.
Approximate time needed to complete: 20 minutes
Running your report is super easy, can be done online, and if you haven’t done one in the last year, is often free. Just go to one of these three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and run your credit.
2. Protect your credit.
Approximate time needed to complete: 30 minutes
Now that you know what’s currently showing up on your credit, find out what options you have for keeping a check on your accounts, like fraud alerts. And consider freezing your credit, which prevents you or others from opening accounts in your name without your knowledge. It takes a little time to get this one done, but it’s worth it for peace of mind that no one can access your credit without you knowing.
3. Copy important paperwork and put it somewhere safe.
Approximate time needed to complete: 2-3 hours, depending on the accessibility of your files
It’s cheaper and easier to make a copy of the documents you have access to right now. Paperwork has a way of disappearing and passwords getting changed. I’m not telling you to hack into your spouse’s computer or smart phone. I’m also not suggesting you break the lock on the home safe with a hammer. But those warnings aside, if you’re unsure what to copy, start with 3-5 years’ worth of tax returns, bank and credit card statements, investment and retirement account statements, loan applications, financial statements, real estate closing documents, and employment contracts. Add to that list anything that looks important, weird, or unusual to you.
4. Document your personal property.
Approximate time needed to complete: 1-2 hours (unless you live in a Real Housewives-style 20,000 square foot home)
Make a detailed list and take time-stamped photographs of your furniture, furnishings, and other items. Include valuable artwork and collectibles, as well as jewelry – both yours and his. That way, if anything disappears, you’ve got proof it existed.
5. Make a list of all accounts.
Approximate time needed to complete: 15 minutes – 1 hour, depending on how organized your accounts are
Write down every account you know of in your name, your spouse’s name, or both. I’m talking bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards. And not just open accounts, but any that you know of that has existed in the last five years. Take a look at the mail and write down the names of the financial companies you see on the envelopes. I don’t mean spam. But if it’s obvious that your spouse is receiving a bank statement from Wells Fargo, then write down Wells Fargo. Don’t open any mail that isn’t addressed to you. I don’t care if you opened your spouse’s mail all the time before the separation – you’re getting a divorce. But there is nothing illegal about reading the outside of an envelope that arrives in your own mailbox.
6. Establish credit.
Approximate time needed to complete: 15 minutes
If you don’t already have credit cards in your own name, not tied to your spouse, now is the time. You might need access to credit now to charge your lawyer’s retainer, or if your spouse temporarily cuts off your access to his. It’s always a good idea for a woman to have credit in her own name. And whether you need it now or not, you will soon: when you’re applying for a mortgage, getting a loan for a new car, or channeling your inner Beyoncé and charging your own purchases that you will pay off with your own money. Establish the credit and make every payment on time. You’ll build a nice credit history quickly.
7. Change passwords on your phone, your ipad, your laptop, your email so it’s new and private.
Approximate time needed to complete: 10 minutes
You might be thinking, we’re amicable, I trust him, this seems unnecessary. Do it anyway. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen divorces become something totally unexpected for women as they progress through the process.
8. Take a deep breath. And take care of you.
Approximate time needed to complete: 15-20 seconds. Deep breaths are supposed to be deep…
You did it. You got through this without crawling under the covers, and you’re on your way to doing what you need to do. Remember, small steps! You’ll find more to this list, plus free advice, inspiration and community at www.divorceingoodcompany.com. And, you’ll find this checklist in downloadable form so you can mark each of these tasks off as you complete them. With each one, congratulate yourself for taking another step to protect yourself and your future!
“Divorce is crushing. But I know personally, it is possible to survive it and somehow – even thrive.” Cynthia Good, PINK CEO
By Pilar Prinz, co-founder, Divorce in Good Company
Together we’ll help you find answers, stay positive, and be good to yourself.
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