My Controlling Ex-Husband Wrecked My Credit. How Do I Rebuild?

A credit is surrounded by tools and screws on a workbench.
Sherman Zent/The Penny Hoarder
Dear Penny,

I recently worked up the courage to leave a difficult marriage to someone who was very controlling, and now I'm trying to get my finances sorted out for the first time in my life. My ex managed our money. He said I was bad with money and that he was the one who knew how to handle finances.

But when I tried to apply for a credit card through my bank, I learned my credit was horrible and that the bank was not going to approve me for a credit card. (So much for me being the one who was bad with money.) Instead, the bank offered me a secured credit card.

Should I go ahead and sign up for it? Will this actually help me out, or is this just a way for the bank to get more money from me? What else can I do to repair my trashed credit?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

– C.

Dear C.,

After all you’ve been through, I’m sure this news from the bank felt like yet another gut punch. But I want you to know that the worst of this is over. It’s all on the mend from here. Put aside whatever your ex told you about being bad with money. You can’t make the impact of what he’s done go away. But you are taking the right steps to rebuild your finances.

It may sound fishy, but getting a secured credit card can be a great step toward repairing that financial damage.

Unlike a regular line of credit, you put down cash as collateral, and then you’re given a credit limit of that same amount on your secured card. Pay the bill (in full, please) each month as you make purchases on the card, and after a while, you’ll be able to switch to a regular credit card — and you’ll get your original collateral cash back from the bank.

But be sure to shop around for a secured line of credit. Some charge big fees, or don’t help build your credit history. A good secured credit card will report your payments, balance and other activity to the three major credit bureaus.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to get a copy of your credit report. Review it for any discrepancies, and check whether accounts were opened in your name without your knowledge. You may also want to place a fraud alert with each of the credit bureaus, in case your ex tries to get new credit in your name.

If you run into trouble trying to close or resolve accounts with creditors, reach out to a victim advocate who can provide financial or legal advice based on your situation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline and your local YWCA are two resources that can help you find a victim advocate in your area.

The hardest part of leaving your ex and starting over may be behind you, but there are still challenges to come. It will take years to fully rebuild your finances.

Stay confident that you are good with money. And know that your money is nothing but your own now.

If you need help leaving a financially controlling relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny and you might see your question answered in an upcoming column.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.