My Husband Said He’d Pay Bills. He Lied. Now His Debt Secrets Haunt Me

An upset woman and angry man interact on the street.
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Dear Penny,

Dear Penny,

My husband and I have $59,000 in credit card debt. We own a condo that needs repairs and two cars that are over 10 years old. When my parents died, they generously left me over $200,000 — some of which I've invested in the stock market.

I recently gave my husband $25,000 to pay off the bills, but apparently our debt has only come down $5,000, and I don't know why. I saw his payments to the credit cards. But he's sneaky with money and buys things in secret. I once found out he spent over $500 on model kits. I made him return/sell most of them. I don't trust him anymore, and he won't tell me how much our debt was.

I realize our debt is shared, but here are the problems: We fight constantly about everything, because he's so lazy, vicious and verbally abusive. We've been together 25 years and married for 12 years, but I want a divorce.

He wants me to pay off the rest of our debt, fix the condo and buy a new car. I don't want to spend my inheritance on a lost cause. If we divorce, will I be responsible for half of the debt? Should I try to sell the condo as is and take off the amount to fix it? I'm trying to get out of this mess, but need help.


Dear H.,

You know that saying, “Things get worse before they get better”? Buckle in. Your already long journey isn’t over yet.

Emotionally, this is basically the worst. You have these debts looming over you, no confidence in your longtime spouse and fear about the best way to get out. Your first steps to extricate yourself need to be strategic. Businesslike. Not emotionless, but with your emotions put off to the side for a little while.

First, get a free credit report to take stock of what’s at stake here. What debts are in both your names instead of just yours or just his? Those will be the ones you need to worry about most. Divorce typically doesn’t free couples from shared debt obligations, which is part of the reason so many people get stuck communicating with their terrible exes for longer than they’d like.

The same goes for your home — if you want out from under it, you’re probably going to need to either sell it together (and take the loss for the work it needs) or strike a deal between you about who keeps the house.

Pulling a credit report and getting your finances (as much as you have access to) organized will help in the next step, which is getting some professional assistance. Based on what you noted about verbal abuse, I’m concerned about your safety. Consider contacting a victim advocate who can help you develop a plan to exit this relationship safely. Even if you think you’ve got this handled, it helps to have backup to support you, not just emotionally but with the logistics.

It may also be a good use of inheritance money to secure an attorney you trust. Because you have property and other shared assets with your husband, you’ll want some help with the nitty-gritty of the divorce proceedings.

Remember, you don’t have to mutually want a divorce to get out of this relationship. You can be the plaintiff who files against him.

Consider your safety first. You might lose money at the end of all this, either because you had to pay off debts to get rid of them or because you had to spend on legal counsel. But it’s money well-spent if it can provide peace of mind, safety and eventual financial freedom.

The inbox is open. Submit a question or send your worries to [email protected], and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Disclaimer: Chosen questions and featured answers will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. I won’t be able to answer every single letter (I can only type so fast!). We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. Don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. I don’t have a psychology, accounting, finance or legal degree, so my advice is for general informational purposes only. I do, however, promise to give you honest advice based on my own insights and real-life experiences.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.