Money Moments: How to achieve financial freedom after a divorce

A divorce is a major life change that can take a toll emotionally – and financially. Financial freedom is possible post-divorce, and here are six steps to get you headed in the right direction.

Tags: Life events, Planning
Published: April 16, 2020

Divorce can be daunting. Even the most amicable separations result in life changes. According to the latest government statistics1, about four in 10 couples wind up divorced and will need to figure out how to adapt to a new normal.

Women face a 41 percent reduction in household income after divorce. For men, the figure is 23 percent2. Divorced people are not alone in facing such upheaval. A 2017 study commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education3 showed that by the time they turn 70, nearly all Americans will have experienced four or more major life events that caused their incomes to drop by more than 10 percent. The study calls these “income shocks.”

But help is out there. Personal bankers, financial planners, the government and even specialty divorce financial counselors can offer solutions. Financial freedom is possible post-divorce, as many who have achieved it can attest.

Here are some steps on the path.

 

Step 1: Assess your financial situation

Take a factual approach for a clear-eyed view of where you stand. What is your income? Your savings? Do you receive child support or alimony? Do you have other assets? Next, list what you owe, including mortgage, car and credit card debts. The idea is to figure out if you can live within your current means, or if you should adjust your spending to match your income.

 

Step 2: Reduce, downsize, sell

If you are spending more than you take in each month, consider how you can lower your bills. Many couples will sell their house as part of the divorce and split the proceeds, then rent for a time or purchase a less expensive home. The same can happen with cars, where a better model might be traded for one with lower payments. Is there anything else you can shed or sell that might help you transition to a new lifestyle?

 

Step 3: Seek financial help

Credit card companies may be willing to waive annual fees, lower interest rates or raise credit limits. In fact, most consumers who make these requests are successful, but many never ask4.

Another strategy for reducing monthly payments is to consolidate loans into one manageable payment. The government provides information on credit and debt through the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, advising anyone seeking credit counseling to be sure the service is accredited with either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

While much of this advice is similar for anyone seeking to gain control of a tough financial picture, it’s important for divorced people to make sure they fully separate their finances and build their own, individual lines of credit. This way an ex-spouse won’t be held responsible for their former partner’s actions.

 

Step 4: Take your time

Should you happen to get a big payout, don’t rush into a major purchase or big decision. Weigh your options carefully, perhaps using the advice of your personal banker. The general rule is to not compound problems by hasty decision-making. An appointment with a personal banker can help you see your financial situation more clearly now and over the next few years.

 

Step 5: Don’t forget retirement planning and long-term savings

While you may be in an acute financial position as you transition to a smaller income, it’s important to save what you can for long-term goals. A government study5 found divorced women particularly end up poorer in their retirement years due to the greater setbacks they experience compared to divorced men and married people, and many have reduced social security benefits. If your workplace offers a 401(k) savings plan, remember that some is better than none to prepare you better for the future.
 

Step 6: Take the long view

Though divorce can be emotionally and financially challenging, keep in mind practicing good money management, budgeting and using available resources can help you achieve financial freedom.
 

To learn more about the steps you may need to take after a divorce, make an appointment with a personal banker.

 

1Marriage and Divorce.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016.
2Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges.” U.S. GAO. 2012.
3Common Income Shocks Disrupt Retirement Savings.” National Endowment for Financial Education. 2017.
4Poll: You can get better credit card terms just by asking.” CreditCards.com. 2017.
5Divorced Women at Retirement: Projections of Economic Well-Being in the Near Future.” Social Security Administration. 2000.