Ask the Experts: Is My Spouse Required to Enroll in a Debt Management Program with Me?

Understanding how cosigners and authorized users impact enrollment.

We’ve received several different questions related to spouses and enrollment in a debt management program – everything from how a cosigner affects an account you wish to include in the program, to whether an authorized user has to enroll with the applicant. The video below answers all of these questions as a whole, so you can get the total picture you need.

I’m married, and my husband and I both use credit cards – some that we share and some we hold separately. The debt on the cards I hold is around $35,000 and I want to consolidate with a debt management program. But I don’t want to force my husband to join with me and freeze his accounts, too.So is it possible to enroll with just my credit cards or is my husband also required to enroll with me?

Ashley L.
Harrisburg, PA

An expert answer from Gary Herman


Ok, you’re asking a very good question about do a husband and wife need to be on a credit counseling account together, and the answer is it really depends on your situations.

There are reasons why you would want both people on the program and reasons why you may not want both people on the program, and it would really involve me getting to know more about what your individual situation is outside of the debt management program.

The only people who are obligated to participate in the debt management program are the people who are the actual signers on the accounts. These are the people who have signed the loan application, promising the credit card companies that they’re responsible for making the payments.

This is different from an authorized user. You may have a credit card and you could ask the credit card company to give you another card in your husband’s name, and then he’s just an authorized user – he never signed a piece of paper saying that, “If neither of us pay, I’m still responsible for paying.”

If that card is with a bank that you’re also including another card from that bank on the program that’s just in your name, you would have an issue that would affect that card.

The simple answer is, if want to just put your cards on the program you can, we can do the budgeting work just on you, we can do it on you and your household, or we can do both. But in the end, if your name’s on the card you’re the only one who has to join the program.

As you learned from the video, the main question that decides whether you spouse has to enroll in a debt management program with you is who actually holds the accounts. There are essentially four different ways your accounts can be set up with your spouse:

  1. You each hold accounts separately. You have your credit cards, your spouse has his or her credit cards and you each manage the accounts and pay the bills on your own. In this case, your accounts would be included and your spouse’s accounts wouldn’t.
  2. You and your spouse are cosigners. This means you applied for the credit card together and you both signed the loan agreement that you would be responsible for the debt. For these accounts, both of you would have to enroll in the program together.
  3. You hold the account, but your spouse is an authorized user. In this case, you could include the account in a debt management program and the account would be frozen so neither of you could use it. However, your spouse would not be required to enroll in the program with you.
  4. Your spouse holds the account and you’re an authorized user. This account would not be included in a debt management program that you sign up for because it’s technically not your debt – i.e. you’re not responsible to pay it back. If you want to have this debt on the program, you would have to enroll together.
Couple enrolls together in a debt management program

There is one issue that can complicate things when it comes to which cards that you have to include in the program. Bear in mind that by law you are not required to include every credit card you hold in a debt management program when you enroll. It’s recommended to include all of your debts, but in some cases participants choose to leave a card off.

However, while no law prohibits the practice, in general banks and credit issuers will require you to enroll all of the debts you hold with them. So if you include one ABC card, then ABC Bank will require you to include all ABC accounts you’re on in order to agree to your enrollment in the program.

This may impact whether or not your spouse has to enroll in the program with you if you are cosigners on an account and you have another credit card from that same issuer just in your name. If you choose to include the individual account when you enroll, then you may also be required to include the cosigned account – in which case your spouse would have to enroll with you.

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