Getting back on financial track

Establish your own credit score, independent of anyone else...


Back in the summer of 2001, I had just signed my agent and was standing at the Loblaw’s check out buying Polaroid film required for my inaugural assignment as a wardrobe stylist. It was a milestone moment; I actually had an agent. I handed the cashier a platinum Visa to pay for the $10 worth of film. She politely smiled and handed me the card back, “Declined” she announced. After a momentary rush of confused humiliation, I dug out another platinum card, “Sorry. It’s declined”. I then produced a platinum Amex, this time the cashier actually kept the card.

I felt an ominous wave of intuition. I paid cash for the film and fled the store. Back in my car, I called my then husband, we’ll call him Dave, “I’m just consolidating some accounts, use your debit card” he told me. But his behaviour had become erratic over the last few months and I had caught him in a series of troubling lies. He was lying to me in that moment.

Dave was spending inordinate amounts of time online, gambling. He had told me the ticker-tape dollar counter in the upper corner of the computer screen was ‘fake money’, just a gaming score. Besides, Dave was ‘a certified financial planner’, he took care of all our finances, made investments, bought life insurance, I was happy to hand him the reins of our finances.

I would find out over the ensuing days that he had gambled us into $180K of debt. Credit card debt that was now mine to shoulder too as a secondary card holder. My abdication of financial responsibility was about to cost me much more than cash.

I don’t like to give advice, but this is important to consider; Establish your own credit score, independent of anyone else, because any purchases you make as the secondary card holder (also referred to as an ‘authorized user’) won't help you build your credit history. You also might want to read the fine print of your credit card agreement. In my case, I discovered that I had no rights to make changes on the card and no rights to information about the primary card holder, but I was legally bound and equally liable to pay any outstanding balance.

I should tell you at this point that there’s a rainbow unicorn ending to this tragedy. In 2005 Dave requested a divorce, incensed at my suggestion that he was having an affair, he made sure to threaten me with a landslide of legal repercussions if I even considered lawyering-up. I wanted out, so I capitulated, leaving behind thousands of dollars I was legally entitled to.

In case you’re thinking that was a mistake, here are some sobering statistics about the cost of divorce… “on average, an uncontested divorce in Canada costs $1,845 in legal fees, while a contested divorce costs $13,638. On average, a trial that takes up to two days on family legal issues costs $18,706 and a trial that lasts up to five days costs $35,950” Canadian department of justice. Add to that the myth that a court of law will give you more in a settlement because your spouse was badly behaved, they won’t. Courts and judges aren’t moral arbitrators in divorce proceedings and ‘no-fault’ divorce has essentially been in effect in Canada since 1986.

Within months of our divorce Dave had married a woman ten years his junior, a woman he had worked with for some time, we’ll call her Sarah. Sarah, it turns out, became one of my unicorns. Over the span of a decade in what seemed like kismet, we ended up friends.

Sarah eventually divorced Dave and discovered that he had run up a joint line of credit to $170K. She confided that a local casino had been sending marketing material to their house for months. He denied he had a problem and she was the new enemy. Because Sarah and I had been through what seemed like parallel lives, our empathy, understanding and validation of each other’s experiences became a healing source for both of us.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from this experience is to make friends with your money and keep track of where it goes; Sonnet Insurance makes that easy. Keeping household expenses in order is crucial to my peace of mind and Sonnet has an easy online questionnaire that will deliver an insurance quote in just a few minutes.

Aside from making changes to the way I deal with the practicalities of life; I made some other life changing decisions along the way. I’m now remarried to the love of my life and we have a happy and energetic nine-year-old daughter. I have a loving and supportive family and friends and I’m rich in ways that can’t be quantified.

You can get help if you think you, or someone you know, has a gambling problem, or if gambling is affecting your family. For immediate help, call Problem Gambling (Connex Ontario) 1-866-531-2600.

Lindley Rae is a freelancing, Toronto-dwelling, forty-something wife and mom. Fueled by a daily Americano and atomic bursts of creativity.

Lindley Rae is a paid spokesperson for Sonnet Insurance.
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