Q: My husband and I are in the midst of a very acrimonious divorce. I suspect he’s hiding financial information from me. Can I check his credit reports, and if so how?
A: No, you can’t check your spouse’s (or ex’s) personal credit reports. In order to request a consumer report on someone else, you must have what’s called a “permissible purpose” under federal law, and marriage or divorce is not one of them. (I imagine your husband isn’t trying to get a job, loan or insurance from you, which rules out the other common reasons for checking credit.)
If he owns a small business, though, you can check his firm’s commercial credit reports without his permission or knowledge. Business credit reports and scores are not regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law that restricts access to consumer reports.
Despite the fact that it is illegal to request someone else’s credit reports without a legitimate reason for doing so, some individuals have obtained their spouse’s reports illicitly. Usually they get access to them online. Because they have intimate knowledge of their partner (or ex partner’s) personal and financial information, they are able to answer the security questions used to screen online requests for credit reports.
Don’t do it. It’s illegal, and it sounds like your divorce is messy enough as it is.
However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to keep tabs on your own credit reports to make sure your spouse isn’t taking a look at yours. If you notice suspicious activity, such as inquiries you don’t recognize, you may want to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your reports. (A fraud alert will encourage creditors to verify the borrower’s identity before extending credit, while a freeze will lock down the credit report.)
I recommend individuals monitor their credit carefully before, during and after a split. In addition to fraud, mistakes may occur when one of you moves. And if the two of you have divvied up joint bills, you need to make sure he’s paying what he’s promised to pay. If he doesn’t, your credit will suffer and you may start hearing from debt collectors. You’re not off the hook for balances on joint accounts until they are paid in full.
Gerri Detweiler is Head of Market Education for Nav, which helps small business owners monitor and build strong personal and business credit, and create financially healthy companies. She is the coauthor of Finance Your Own Business with attorney Garrett Sutton.