I don’t know about you, but it wasn’t just my emotional life that was in a shambles after my divorce. I think my finances were in even worse shape. In my own case, this was because I had done the hands-down, stupidest thing a woman can ever do with her money — gave control of it to someone else. If there was one thing, ONE THING, I could go back and change, it would be that. That’s not to say that I didn’t see the light before the end. For years, I tried to get the ex to even let me share in the bill-paying responsibilities, but that offended his masculine sensibilities, so therefore I wasn’t allowed to touch my own money. He didn’t prohibit me from using the ATM or anything, I just never had any idea if there was any money in there, so I didn’t even try. He “kept track” of the bills on the backs of random envelopes, using his own chicken-scratch that even he couldn’t understand, and eventually, we had a house foreclosure, a car re-poed (from my work… at my SCHOOL… how embarrassing), and thousands in debt to hospitals, doctors, utility companies… What a mess.
He even took his name off of the car insurance before the divorce was final, and stopped paying on it, so I owed the car insurance company for two cars that weren’t even in my name, and I wasn’t even driving them.
And then I went to buy a car… Because I had cosigned for his work van (which he GAVE to a friend before leaving the state), and payments had not been made on it for several months, I almost couldn’t get a vehicle at all.
But I did (paying almost 25% interest), and I knew I would never miss a payment.
Does this sound familiar? Are you asking yourself, “What do I do NOW??”
Step One: Order a copy of your credit report from all 3 credit companies: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. You are entitled to one free copy per year, so do these three all at once the first year, and then in future years, order one from one company every 4 months. They will all have similar if not the same information, and that way you can keep track of your progress, and dispute anything that should not be there. DO NOT pay for your credit score anywhere! You can get it for free at Credit Karma. Your score is handy to know if you are going to the bank or credit union to try to get a loan. They can crunch some better numbers if you have an idea of what your score is. Don’t freak out if it’s low. Mine was in the basement, and in 4 years, It has gone up over 200 points.
Step Two: Take care of as many outstanding debts on your credit report as you can. And as soon as you can. Always request that they remember to make a note on your credit report that the account has been resolved. Sometimes you can even negotiate a settlement amount less than what you owe. Make sure to dispute any claims that are incorrect, as well. This takes phone calls, something I abhorred doing, but have gotten much better about, primarily through this process. This report is YOU, and you want to look your best to the world. You want it to reflect you, your values, and your work ethic accurately, and it may take a little work to get it back to where it needs to be. Nobody can do that but yourself!
Step Three: Take a hard look at what is coming in every month (and don’t count on the child support — Only depend on yourself), and what is going out. You may have to cut back on some things while you are paying all off this debt. You would be surprised what alternatives there are out there to the things we think we have to have. The library became my best friend, as well as a little group called Freecycle, and Craigslist. I became a bit of a bargain hunter, which is a great skill to have, regardless of your income. Notice that I said “bargain hunter” and not “couponer”…
Step Four: Pay every bill on time.
Step Five: Once you are out of the woods, which may take a few months (or even a few years), you need to start some long-range planning. Check out some trusted sites to help you with both your day-to-day budgeting and your long-term plans: Mint.com, and Learnvest.com. I have tried both, and personally like Learnvest’s whole-person approach, as they give you articles and training based on your interests, but it is woman-centered, which may or may not appeal to you. Lots of people (and I mean LOTS) use Mint, as well.
Finally, if you are not already a member, I highly recommend using a credit union. They have fewer fees, and are more likely to reward somebody like you, working hard to take control of their finances, with better interest rates, and needed loans.
As you start digging yourself out of the hole, make sure to take care of yourself, and to even pamper yourself every once in awhile. We are human, and we need some creature comforts to remain that way.
You can do this. You will find sources of strength you never knew you had. And you will have the power over your own money, which is a fantastic feeling.