Widow Finds Credit Tied Up in Husband’s Name

After being widowed this spring at age 55, reader Lorraine from Temecula found out that her deceased husband’s credit was worth more than hers. Once she began to recover from the shock of losing her husband, she knew she should change accounts to her own name. She started with Sears, where she and her husband had been loyal customers since 1972, and she got a surprise. Upon hearing of her husband’s death, Sears abruptly canceled the joint account and didn’t even let her redeem her reward points. Angry at this treatment, she hasn’t stepped foot into a Sears store since May.

She had another bad experience when she tried to take her husband’s name off the wireless phones. She wanted to keep the same numbers, but Cingular/AT&T warned her that they would have to cancel her account. She managed to talk them out of it, then encountered major red tape when she tried to get the numbers transferred into her own name at Verizon, a new provider.?

These two experiences made her gun-shy, so she told me she left all the utilities and other credit cards as they were, with her deceased husband’s name on them. That’s exactly what women did before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1976 was enacted to take care of that problem. But apparently widows still are not treated with the respect they deserve.

Lorraine wasn’t na‘ve about her finances. For more than 30 years, even though she was working much of the time, she was the one who paid all the bills, kept track of their finances and applied for credit. Yet now, without her husband, she realizes that it didn’t matter. Lorraine now says, “If I had known all this, I would have put everything in my name long ago.”

While it isn’t necessary to have everything in your name alone, you do need a personal credit history. Unfortunately, many married, separated, divorced or widowed women such as Lorraine lost their credit histories when they married and changed their names, or found that creditors reported accounts shared by married couples in the husband’s name only.

Take a lesson from Lorraine: Review your personal credit history by contacting the credit bureaus to be sure that all relevant information is correct and appears under your name. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.

13 thoughts on “Widow Finds Credit Tied Up in Husband’s Name”

  1. My wife forwarded this to me. She is wondering about this sort of thing as I am 71 and she is 66. I’m in fine health for my age, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be prudent for her to get her own things in order. This story is at least five years old, as shown by the Sears and the Cingular references, and by a comment from 2014. I see there is a 2019 Q&A, and the basic thinking about having one’s own credit history is sound. Are there any updates of note in law? Thanks.

    1. Yes, you are right, this story took place in the past, hence the references to companies that are now out of business, but were thriving then. And as you point out, that could happen to each of us as well, and I applaud your joint commitment to have your wife’s credit history established in the case of your death or incapacity. Since this article was written, credit regulations have made it harder for dependent spouses to get credit in their own name, since only their own earnings and assets are taken into account, unless they are in a community property state. That said, with income and good credit scores I’m sure she’ll be able to establish credit in her own name.

  2. My husband recently passed away. He left enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage on our home, as we owed very little in interest mostly just the principal was left. I have been advised to have the house listed on the deed in my name only is this a good idea? My husband named me his sole beneficiary and he had me listed as co-users on his credit cards. Does this mean I have his credit rating which was very good?

    1. You have the credit rating that you have, based on your credit history, which includes credit cards in your name or joint names. And since your spouse is deceased, he no longer can own property, so you should list it in your name since you are the survivor.

  3. I’ve been running into the opposite. My husband had things in his name only. I’m obviously his wife; I have the death certificate; but they treat me like a criminal – att uverse, State Farm, etc. It doesn’t matter what you do, don’t do, etc. This world we live in doesn’t “get it”. Losing your spouse isn’t in the realm of understanding of anybody anymore – this social media, anti social world. Widows are an enigma and completely alone.

    1. I am a new widow. My husband died just 16 days ago. Already, the electric company has demanded an additional $148 deposit. Our storage bill has been increased by $20 a month+ change, my auto insurance has been increased because I needed to stop autodraft on our account temporarily. As he was on SSDI, but as I have no minor children, and am not yet 60, I right now have no income, and so far, I have found no available assistance at all. I do not know what is next, but it very much feels like my husband’s death has painted a large target all over me right now. These things should be illegal.

  4. It sounds like it would be better for women to keep their maiden name when marrying, as well as keeping their own credit cards.

    1. Some women choose to keep their name, and some choose to change their mind. Both are legal and neither is more financially beneficial. No matter which name you choose, keeping credit in your own name is always a good idea.

  5. My husband died on Christmas Day, 2015. I called my insurance agent regarding getting our home owners insurance and car insurance changed into just my name. Silly me, I thought for sure the cost would go down since there would only be one driver. Even though I have a better driving record, the car insurance went up by $3.00 a year and our homeowners insurance went up $88.00 per year. I asked how is this possible and they said that it has to do with my “insurance rating” not being as good as my husband’s. They could not explain how this could be since our insurance has been in both of our names for the past 30 years. It sounded very sexist to me. Any comments?

  6. I need financial assistant, my husband died August 3, 2014
    I owe my parents for staying in their play and electricity.

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