Q: My new wife was unfortunate enough to be married to a guy who left her holding about $20,000 in credit card debt.

After their split in 1995, she went back to Britain and stayed there until last year. It is now almost 7 years since she defaulted on the cards. An accountant friend tells me that the alternative to negotiating a settlement or payment plan to restore her credit would be to let them ride. After 10 years, her debts are considered uncollectable and her credit report will delete them.

She has no job or assets other than those as a by product of our recent marriage so repaying these debts would be in my court. What is our best course of action?

A: How unfortunate that you and your new wife are facing all this trouble. Depending on how you and she have handled your joint credit since getting married, it’s possible your credit has been tarnished along with hers.

If your wife’s and her former husband’s creditors haven’t come after her in all this time, assume that they simply won’t bother. There is a statue of limitations on chasing a debtor. If the credit card company have “charged-off” the debt, and have not filed a lien or suit against your wife, then eventually the debts will drop off her credit report, as your friend suggests. On the other hand, it’s possible that these debts are still “collectible.”

You won’t know where this stands until your wife pulls a copy of her credit report. Go to myFICO.com, and for $12.95, your wife can get a copy of her credit history, along with suggestions for improving her credit score.

What’s your best course of action? You should be very careful to keep your credit separate from your wife’s credit. If your wife wants to repay her debts, fine. But if you don’t need her credit to qualify for a home loan or a credit card, don’t use it. If you tread carefully, it’s possible to keep your credit clean while hers benefits greatly from the passage of time.

Published: Feb 28, 2001