Ex is an authorised user? They can spend, but aren't liable

By Benjamin Salisbury

Not only could your ex-partner leave you broken hearted, the data shows they could leave you in debt, too, and it could take longer to get your finances back in good shape than your heart.

Research by the Debt Advisory Centre shows that two-thirds of people can't break free from an ex-partner because they have joint finances. In an emailed response to questions, Melanie Taylor, a Debt Advisory Centre spokeswoman, said 21% of people fail to agree who is responsible for paying off a joint credit card or loan and a further 15% still have their money merged with their ex-partner in a joint bank account.

This is especially true if your ex is only an authorised user, not a joint account holder. Authorised users aren't liable for the account, even if they are the ones who racked up debt. That could make an already difficult situation even more so. shared-card-accounts

Joint users both liable, authorised users aren't
The Lending Code, a voluntary code of practice for financial institutions, confirms that if you have a joint account, yes, you are liable for debt incurred on the account. It states: "When two or more people have a loan
or credit card, they have ‘joint and several liability', which means that each
is individually responsible for the full amount of any borrowing."

"For credit agreements taken out in both names ... you are jointly liable for the debt until it is repaid," Taylor said. However, the situation is slightly different with authorised users.

"If you have a credit card that you took out in your name only and your partner has an additional card linked to the account, you're responsible for any money borrowed on either card," Taylor said. The additional cardholder is not liable for the debts even if the balance on the account was solely down to them, and as the card account is under your name only, the debt won't affect your partner's credit, either. 

Cancelling accounts with an authorised user
It is important that you cancel shared accounts after a breakup so that your ex-partner can't keep adding to the debt. This is especially important if you fear your ex will behave irresponsibly with the account in the future, which could hurt your credit.

"When couples are in the middle of a breakup, and emotions are raw, often they find it difficult to agree on anything," Taylor said. "While it can be difficult, it's important to agree to a plan for separating finances and paying off debts. If you find yourself with an ex who is unable or unwilling to pay, let your bank or lender know about the situation as soon as possible. They may be able to give you reduced payments or freeze interest."

You and your ex should contact your credit card provider to explain the situation, then call the three major credit bureaus and request a notice of disassociation. If only one party wants to cancel, they should ask the bank what steps to take to block the card or remove an ex-partner from the account. It may be possible to have the account frozen until the bank receives further instructions from both account holders.

In the meantime, do everything you can to keep your score as healthy as possible in the event your partner does run up debt.

"Simple steps like ensuring you're registered at your current address on the electoral roll and making your regular payments on time each month will help," James Jones, head of consumer affairs at Experian, said in an emailed response to questions.

Finally, "if you think your ex-partner has made or is likely to make fraudulent applications in your name, we recommend you contact CIFAS -- the UK's Fraud Prevention Service," Jones said. "Signing up to their ‘Protective Registration Service' places a warning flag against your name to indicate that you are at risk of identity fraud."

See related: 6 rules for dealing with joint credit card debt during a divorce, Beware 'joint and several' agreements

Updated: 8 September 2016