What’s more stressful than the first conversation you ever have with your significant other about money? The moment when you realise it’s just not working out.
You weren’t married, but you might as well been. You shared rent, utilities, maybe a bank account. If you didn’t live together, you shared a family phone plan, or at least a Netflix account. At any rate, it’s over. And it’s a mess.
Now you feel like the past however many years have been a complete waste. But you don’t have much time to spend wallowing in your heartache. You need to think about your money.
I asked two personal finance experts (who have been through their own share of breakups) their tips for resetting your finances after calling things off.
Focus on facts, not feelings
Don’t start packing your bags—at least, your emotional ones—until you know exactly what you’re dealing with. “Get in front of yourself and your emotions and do the most strategic things first,” said Whitney Morrison, CFP and director of financial advisory at LegalZoom. Make a list of every account and expense that you share, paying special attention to accounts that are in both your names. Your list could include a house, a car, a credit card—anything that contractually ties you to that other person.
Separating shared financial accounts should be your top priority. “The thing with shared accounts, like joint savings or checking, is that whenever you put money into that account, you both become legal owners of that money,” said Morrison. “Either of you can spend the entire balance without legal recourse because you both own the money.”
If you have a joint savings or checking account, pull out your part of the joint money (check your statements if you need to remember who contributed what) and make sure you turn off any direct deposits or automatic transfers you have set up for that account.
“Hopefully, you have at least one checking account of your own,” said Lillian Karabaic, personal finance educator and author of A Cat’s Guide to Money. “If not, immediately open one and move some money into it. I’ve heard way too many stories of people whose ex drained the account or locked them out of a shared account out of spite,” she said.
Evaluate your housing options
If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to use it.
“Even if you’re able to move out of a rental quickly, you still will need to have funds for first and last rent, and replacing the shared cookware and furniture,” Karabaic said.
If you’re both on the lease, consider asking your landlord if you can transfer to a different unit, Karabaic explained, though this scenario works best with corporate landlords and large apartment complexes. “Sometimes you can have one of you downgrade to a smaller apartment, or even ask if you can each transfer your leases to two different units,” she said. “This can often ease the financial and logistical difficulties of moving out, and your property manager gets an extra unit occupied.”
If you don’t have the funds to get your own place, it’s time to lean on family and friends. You may already be sleeping on their couch, so it’s worth having a conversation about whether you can extend your stay in order to save up cash. “People are often really surprised by the support that’s there if you ask for it,” Morrison said.
Sacrifice your Netflix login (but maybe not your insurance)
“Just cut it,” Morrison said of shared accounts like Amazon Prime, Netflix, a phone plan, or anything else where you share a password. If you’re still connected through even the most minor of monthly expenses, “It’s like the breakup doesn’t ever really end,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s easiest to let the account or object go to the person who cares more,” Karabaic advised. She said to watch out for the hidden expenses of breaking up that can often crop up while you’re going through this inventory, like setting up your own streaming accounts, getting your own pressure cooker after you swore you wouldn’t use it that much.
One aspect that may take additional strategising: if you’re on the same health insurance. If you were in a domestic partnership, one person taking the other off their insurance will count as a “change in status” or “loss of insurance,” Karabaic explained. “You will be able to qualify for a special enrolment period for either an exchange plan or your workplace insurance.”
But, if you’re nearing the end of your plan year, you may want to stick it out until open enrolment if things are amicable. “You’ll have to meet a brand new deductible” if you switch before open enrolment, she warned.
Watch your credit
Once you’ve determined which accounts belong to whom and separated them accordingly, you’re actually not finished. “I would definitely recommend keeping your eye on your credit score,” Karabaic said, by using a free credit monitoring service.
The average ex may not do something sneaky like open a new credit card in your name, but if they slip on any bills to which your name is still attached, you could end up with damage to your credit history. “You don’t want to leave that in the hands of anyone else.” Morrison said, “Especially your ex.”
Keep documentation that you’ve been removed from any joint accounts, and be on the lookout for infrequent charges that didn’t make it onto your initial list of shared accounts. Karabaic said extra-driver coverage on auto insurance or renter’s insurance for an apartment where you no longer live are common culprits here.
Understand it’s going to be messy
Uncoupling your finances with a longtime partner is not an instant process. And getting back on strong financial footing after your breakup could take a while. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you’re flailing right after the breakup.
“It’s a lot different operating on two incomes and sharing bills and expenses,” Morrison said. “Life does change for you. But this is a time to get grounded in your personal financial situation and start to create new boundaries around what does and doesn’t work for you financially now.”
It may take time to feel secure with a new budget and maybe a new living space to match. But if you take some time to set yourself up for success—all while dodging the temptation to respond to your ex’s texts—you’ll find yourself on strong financial footing, along with a few lessons to take into your next relationship.