Some of the content is American based but is still very useful in a South African context.
Breakups are painful and confusing. All of a sudden, your life is completely different, and you now need to deal with everything on your own — including financial matters. Even though your heart is bruised, and mind is dazed, you need to take charge of your money and financially get over your ex. This is especially true if they handled the household budget or were the main breadwinner.
To avoid adding money misery to your heartache, follow these 10 tips:
It’s natural to wallow in the pain, binging on ice cream and Netflix. However, you need to acknowledge your new reality as soon as possible. If you don’t, you could find yourself in a financial world of hurt. Once you’ve come to grips, you can make a plan.
Determine Your Living Situation
If you and your ex live together, you need to decide who stays in the house or apartment. If unmarried with the mortgage or lease in only one of your names, the decision is easy. But, if it’s a joint venture, you’ll need to partner on a solution.
For owned property, the fairest route may be to sell and split the proceeds. (Or, one of you could buy out the other.). If you are navigating a divorce, the terms of the divorce will decide what happens to the home.
For rented property, you’ll need to involve your landlord. They can make official changes to the lease so that you or your ex is no longer legally responsible for paying rent. If neither of you can afford the apartment on your own, you may need to sublet, re-let, or break the lease.
Regardless of whether you’re staying or going, you need to consider the financial impact. If your ex is leaving, you’ll lose their income. If you’re leaving, you’ll lose their income and need to come up with the cash to move.
Take Stock of Possessions & Debt
A moment ago, everything was shared. Now, it’s a definite case of yours and theirs. Regardless of marital status, anything owned before the relationship typically stays with you. If you’re not married, you and your ex should divvy up items acquired together or choose to sell them and share the profits. Joint bank accounts should be split fairly and then closed. Further, if you incurred debt together, you should divide responsibility for the balances and close those accounts (preventing your ex from racking up more debt you’d be liable for). Typically, unless there is a dispute, legal intervention is not required.
If you’re getting divorced, your state laws will determine how assets and debts are divided (prenuptial agreements will have an impact as well). In most states, the court will distribute assets and liabilities fairly (not necessarily equally). In the nine community property states, everything obtained during the marriage is split 50-50. Be sure to understand the terms of your divorce or custody arrangement, if applicable, so that you can take advantage of everything that you’re entitled to.
Tip: Don’t forget to change the name on the utility accounts! You don’t want to be responsible for paying for electricity, heat, water, or internet after you move out.
Open Up Your Own Accounts
To move forward, you need to completely separate your finances from your ex. After closing your jointly held asset and debt accounts, open up any new ones that you need. Make sure that anything tied to money is in your name only.
Make (and Stick to) a Budget
You’re now in charge of running your own household and need to set a new budget to reflect that. Add up all of your expenses, including debt payments. Then, add up all of your income sources, factoring in alimony/child support, if applicable.
If your income falls short of your expenses, you need to make quick adjustments to your spending/find ways to increase cash flow. And, even though it’s tempting, try to avoid post-breakup retail therapy, which could cause you more grief and regret.
Tip: If you’re new to budgeting (or are a little rusty), try using a worksheet like this. There are also countless online tools and calculators like these that can help. Remember, Charlie can help you track your debt and spending so that you can stick to your newly created budget.
Update Legal Documents
Unless otherwise required by the terms of your divorce, now’s the time to take your ex out of your will and off of your list of beneficiaries. Be sure to update these documents and name new beneficiaries.
Understand Tax Implications
If you’re divorcing, consider speaking with an accountant to see how your tax liability will change. Generally, single people pay higher taxes. If your income tax withholding is set as “married,” you may want to adjust it by filling out a new w4 form with your employer(s).
Revisit Your Retirement Plan
Since you’re now flying solo, you should re-evaluate your retirement plans. Of course, a lot can change between now and your golden years, but you should ballpark how much money you’ll need if you’re just covering yourself. If you’re divorcing, retirement plan assets accumulated while married are subject to division as part of the proceedings. This monetary gain (or loss) will impact how much more you need to save. Finally, if you’re going to be financially strapped for awhile, consider if it makes sense to suspend contributions to your retirement plan until you’re back on your feet.
Keep Tabs on Your Credit
Your credit situation will change as you close some accounts and open others. Keep a close eye on your credit report to make sure all activity reported is accurate. If you haven’t already, remove your ex as an authorized user on any accounts that you’re keeping.
Tip: If you think your ex may purposefully use your cards, consider changing your credit card account numbers or freezing your credit.
If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, ask for help. This is a difficult time and there are resources to make this transition easier. Your family and friends can offer support, encouragement, and distraction from the current drama. Community services can connect you with food, housing assistance, career development resources, and more if you’re feeling pinched. Finally, professionals can help with the legal, mental health, and financial planning aspects of this challenging chapter.
This article is for general guidance only. Since every situation is different and laws vary widely from state to state, you’re encouraged to seek the advice of a qualified professional before acting.
Ending a relationship is one of the most difficult parts of the human experience. In a way, your world is ending. But, in a way, it’s just beginning, too. If you follow the tips in this article and lean on your support system, you’ll be well on your way to owning (and loving) your new single, empowered life.