While many married couples agree to share everything, this is not necessarily true when it comes to debt. A variety of factors helps determine whether a husband is responsible for his wife's personal loan. According to FindLaw, the deciding factors from a legal standpoint depend on the reason for the debt and the state of residence.
California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin are community property states, according to the IRS. Alaska residents are able to choose whether they are considered as community or common law. Community property state the husband is responsible for the debt if the wife acquired it during the marriage, regardless of who signed for the loan. However, if the wife acquired the loan before marriage, it remains solely her responsibility.
Other states, including the District of Columbia, are common law states. Typically in these states, the responsible party is the person who signed for the debt. The husband is only liable for debts he signed for. An exception to this rule, depending on where the couple lives, can be a debt signed for by the wife but used for the good of the family. However, in states such as Illinois, straight money loans such as a personal loan do not qualify for the exception even if the wife used the proceeds of the loan for family expenses.
Death or Divorce
Typically, if the wife dies without assets, the creditor cannot collect the debt from her survivors including her husband. If the wife used an asset to secure the personal loan, the creditor can place a lien on the asset preventing its sale until someone pays the debt. Depending on the specifics of the personal loan, the husband should seek the help of an attorney after the death of his wife. In cases of divorce or legal separation in community property states, if the wife signed for the loan during the marriage, the husband can be responsible for it unless the judge orders differently. If the debt existed before marriage or while legally separated, the husband bears no responsibility for the debt according to Nolo.
If a collector contacts you requesting payment for your wife's personal loan, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act grants you protection from aggressive collection efforts. The Federal Trade Commission recommends speaking with the collector at least once and attempting to resolve the situation. If talking does not help, send the collector a copy of any proof – such as a divorce decree — that you have that shows that you are not responsible for the debt along with a statement in writing requesting that the collector not contact you again. While this prevents most future contact, it does not protect you from a lawsuit. If the collector sues you for the debt, contact an attorney for legal advice.
- FindLaw: Debts
- IRS.gov: Publication 555 - Community Property
- Bankrate.com: Community property, Common Law, Assets and Debts
- Illinois Legal Aid: Am I Responsible for My Spouse's Debts?
- Bankrate.com: Is Wife Liable for Deceased Husband's Debts?
- Nolo: Debt and Marriage - When Do I Owe My Spouse's Debts?
- Federal Trade Comission: Debt Collection FAQs - A Guide for Consumers
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images