Breaking free of a debt trap
Q: My husband and I had to declare bankruptcy almost 10 years ago, mainly because of credit-card debts. Now, the card companies are back, and my husband keeps taking the bait. Is there a way I can be protected? My husband keeps thinking that he has the means to pay on these cards but he doesn't. I think he is up to six cards and owes $600 to $700 on each one.
Name withheld, Texas
A: "Texas is a community-property state, so the general legal presumption is that debts incurred by a spouse are jointly incurred," says Cheryl Creuzot, who heads Wealth Development Strategies, a financial consulting firm in Houston. To seek to insulate yourself from your husband's debts, "don't fill out or sign the coapplicant information on credit-card applications. You can also ask your husband to sign a postnuptial agreement stating that you do not wish to use your income to pay your spouses' debts." Use a family law attorney. But even then, a court may decide that you have benefited from his debts, such as if he buys an air-conditioning unit.
Q: I am 77 years old, a veteran with two grown sons. I live alone on Social Security and a small federal pension. I live in a mobile home, and my lot rent is $120 per month. I have a mortgage payment of $234. I also must pay back federal taxes at $100 per month. I have two part-time jobs, and have cut my living expenses, but I am still terribly strapped. Any advice?
A: "We assume that you are on good terms with your two adult sons, and that if they are not in a position to help you financially, perhaps they can help you obtain assistance from state or federal agencies," says Pat Schipper, a consultant with Prism Financial Group, Overland Park, Kan. "Start by contacting your state and local offices dealing with senior citizens. They probably have a number of programs to help you. Also, be sure to use programs you may qualify for through the US Veterans Administration. Finally, have a frank talk with the folks at the IRS. They may be able to help you revise your payment plan on the back taxes," Ms. Schipper says.