In the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.
Today, one man explains how a lopsided financial relationship with his ex-wife landed him thousands of dollars in debt—and how he’s now reclaiming his money life.
Leslie* and I were college sweethearts. We met at Indiana University in 2004—I was working as a costume designer for the school play, and she was one of the actresses.
We had a slow courtship—a friendship that turned into a romantic relationship. She made me laugh and brought me out of my shell. We were a good fit.
In 2005 I graduated and moved to New York City to attend a theater program at Juilliard, and Leslie and I continued dating long-distance while she finished up her senior year. The separation was hard on her, but I was able to fly back to Indiana to see her every couple of months.
During one of my visits, Leslie asked me to go car shopping with her. It was her first time buying a vehicle, and she wanted my input. There was just one problem: When the salesperson at the dealership processed Leslie’s application, he saw that she had a low credit score and told her she’d need a cosigner in order to qualify for the loan.
Leslie was surprised because she didn’t have a lot of debt, but it turned out that there were a couple of nicks on her credit report due to medical expenses. Not wanting to let the sale get away so easily, the salesperson looked at me and asked if I could cosign. I thought, “Why not?”
I didn’t know what my credit score was, but I had a few cards and always paid the minimum balance on time. So I volunteered to add my name to Leslie’s application, and a few minutes later, she was the proud owner of a new car.
Call it a misguided moment of spontaneous chivalry or the blind decision-making of a starry-eyed guy in love, but I had no idea what I was really signing up for—to be on the hook for the payments if she ever stopped making them.
Fortunately, cosigning didn’t end up hurting my credit score because she made the payments on time—but it hurt me in other ways. That day marked the beginning of our lopsided financial relationship. As the years with Leslie went by, I would become the sole burden-bearer of our collective debt.