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.