Thursday, October 27, 2011

Primarily, It's About Being Secondary



“I’m sorry. Because your husband is currently primary on the account, only he can cancel it or change any of the information concerning it.”

Grrrrrrrr….

Do you know how many times I have heard this or a variation of it in the past few weeks?

Since HOB and I have been married for thirty years, we have a lot of intertwined accounts that go back a long time. I am learning now that, on most of them, he is the primary account holder and I am the secondary.

HOB made the decision to leave our marriage, giving me no choice in the matter of divorce.
Now, on top of that, I have to hear that I have no power to change the accounts to my name only?

Great.

That’s just what I needed to hear (over and over and over again) right now.

It’s been like this for the garbage/water/sewer, the bank account, the credit card account, the gas company account, the phone account, and the electric account. Yes, the bills that came to our house were always in his name, but the money used to pay the bills came from both of our paychecks.

In some cases, I have had to cancel the account, and then start a new one. This means I start over, the record of years of on-time payments wiped out. Sometimes there is a fee for starting a "new" account.

Two weeks ago, I needed to cancel a line of home equity credit and get a clearance on our deed. I went to the bank to be told I couldn’t do it even though I was on the cleared loan documents. Only HOB could do it.

I wanted to take over one of our shared credit cards and keep the miles on it. My name was on the credit card. However, HOB could keep the card and take my name off it, but I couldn't do the same. I had to get another credit card (with a much lower line of credit.) They were our accumulated miles, but HOB was the only one who could authorize the transfer of miles.

I transferred some of our money from our joint account into my own new checking account. Because HOB's name was primary on the account, every time I look at my new account, his name is there on the transfer history, as though the shared funds came solely from him.

Grrrrrrrrrrr….

When we started these accounts, I did not make a conscious decision to be the secondary. In fact, I don’t ever remember even being asked if we had a preference. We opened the accounts and HOB was automatically named as primary. At the time, I didn’t think that much about it. I thought we’d always be together, so it was no big deal.

I am smart. I am educated, but I fell into a typical trap. I didn’t pay attention to whose name was first on those accounts. Moreover, I let HOB take over the finances, make the stock decisions, and do the taxes. He was good at those things and I wasn’t, or at least I didn’t think I would be. I trusted him and believed him in all things financial. When he said I didn’t need a supplemental savings account from work because “We’ll have mine when we retire,” I went along with it.

He was strong where I was weak and I didn’t get any stronger because I never tried. I lolled around in the warm bathwater of complacency when I should have been developing my own savings plan, applying for my own credit cards, and managing my own stocks.

My female blogging buddies, especially my younger ones: take heed. Get our own accounts. Make sure you are primary on at least half of your utilities. Apply for your own credit cards. Don’t assume you are a equal on your shared accounts; if you are female, you have probably automatically been listed as secondary.

I am luckier than a lot of women in my situation. I have a good job and a good retirement system. I am able to get credit on my own. My financial advisor walked out on me, but if I need to, I can hire someone to advise me in this area. I am grateful for these things.


Maybe, just maybe, someday in the future, I’ll be a situation where I will be on an account with someone again. However, I can tell you now, I’ll always keep my own checking account. On shared accounts, I’ll either be a joint account holder or the primary from here on out.

This change in my life has taught me a lot about the value of taking responsibility for my own finances and my own future. I have a lot to learn and I'll probably stumble along the way, but it's time for me to take charge of my life.

My first decision?

No more secondary status for Betty.


65 comments:

Teresa Evangeline said...

Amen, sister! This was the same lesson I learned along the way and it's an infuriating one. We learn to never take anything for granted in financial affairs and to create our own financial "history." I'm betting many people will benefit from what you've written here. Kudos to you for sharing this. I know things are tough, but you're tougher. And, intelligent and beautiful to boot.

Mamma has spoken said...

Had the same thing happen to me a long time ago. I wasn't getting a divorce, but was trying to buy something (forget what) and wanted to buy it on credit. Was told that I needed hubby to sign for it too in order to get the credit. I thought that was dumb, I make more money then him why do I need his name on it? I was told that our join accounts went towards HIS credit history, not mine, and that in the eyes of a bank, I had no credit history.
I do now.

Sush said...

I hate that you are having to experience all this, but I bless you for sharing your insight and learning curve. I would not know most of what you have shared. Hopefully I won't need to differentiate between primary and secondary but then life is full of those wild cards, isn't it?

Hugs and thanks~

Madi and Mom said...

Morning BB...well said!
I find it so hard to accept that you, the victim, are having to pay such a high price for a situation created w/o your knowledge!! The system truly 'sucks'...and I NEVER use that word.
Hugs C

Laura Eno said...

Yay for you! You go, girl. The system is ridiculous. Women have to swim upstream...but we are strong, we will prevail. So will you. You're tougher than you think.

laughingmom said...

I'm sorry that you are going through this - I don't work and thus have to be "secondary" but I never gave up a card just in my name so that I did have a little credit. I went through those phone calls when our house burned down and the utilities that I was trying to notify wouldn't talk to me. They had to get my Hubby on the line and verify with him that I could stop service (to a house that was in ruins!)

Out on the prairie said...

I am not sure why they do this, it sounds real silly.A friends wife 2nd mortgaged the house, who knew who posed as him.This was never found until she died and had covered up all kinds of liens against them.

Old Kitty said...

Good for you BB!! I know it's also not the most romantic thing too but please women about to get married - draw up a pre-nup and get in there first!! :-)

Ahem!!

BB - no more secondary for you! Yay! Take care
x

Flartus said...

Wow, sexism is still alive and well, isn't it? Of course you didn't think twice about being dependent on HOB, or secondary on your accounts. Who spends their setting-up days planning for a split-up?

This reminds me of my childhood in the 70s, when divorce seemed to be the new national pastime. I remember learning early on to be prepared to support myself, not to give up a career for marriage, and to keep a hand in on the finances.

But to the point of paying attention to secondary vs. joint? What a nightmare. Thirty-odd years later, your story makes me feel like there's still a lot of work to be done. Still, like you say, you're a lot better off than Mrs. Cleaver would have been, eh?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry you're going through all of that? Aren't there papers he can sign to transfer these things over to you?

Anonymous said...

Wow whee, it is always good to be reminded that things have changed and some things are the same, but WRONG...My hubby retired, I made sure everything was on the up and up as far as I was concerned, always have done so in a nearly 40 year marriage, I have a savings account put him on one, kept the other just for me, just in case of some crap coming around! Have always had IRA accounts just for me and he is the person who will get them if I go to the Lord, a will in order too..Our daughter isn't gonna get much, she must work just like we did..Met many divorced women before I married in 1974 they always told me to have a separate checking and savings account we have two checking accounts one at the credit union and one at a bank but basically I watch for any shenanigans..we learned to invest together, my husband a prize in these days of baloney and betrayal..Praying you get a handle on your whole situation, you are fortuanate to have a good job and a pension, most women don't have either since a woman can only make about .78 cents to a man's dollar that is with only a high school education for a man!!!!!!!!!!!!! Protect yourself and when you settle in your divorce try to get as much as possible because you ex is having a big affair only you don't know about it, most men just leave they cannot look the wife in the eye and tell the truth, it will all come out after your divorce..it always does..just saying!!!!!!!!!!!

Melinda said...

I've lived your experience too. I thought I had done all the right things financially. I had my own credit card, or so I thought, discovered it was actually a spousal. The whole time I thought I was building up my credit rating, nope, I helped build his. All the utilities were in his name so when I went to put them in mine I had to pay the fee. When I approached him about all this he said, and I quote, "You brought this on yourself"
I'm mad all over again.

Susan in the Boonies said...

That just sucks. It really, really does.

Slamdunk said...

Good advice Betty. One never knows what will happen.

Eva Gallant said...

Excellent advice, Betty. Too many of us learned this the hard way!

Leah J. Utas said...

Rough way to learn, but it's a good lesson to pass along.

ellen abbott said...

Our patriarchal society still persists even though we are supposed to be equal. Oh, you're a woman? Denied. Luckily you can open you own accounts now. 30 years ago they probably wouldn't have let you.

Kristina said...

I had this "secondary" conversation with our bank the day I locked us out of the online banking account. I called in and the woman said "You are the secondary I can't give you a new password or reset the account - your husband will have to do that." I was like "Excuse me? Want his social? Passport ID? DL #? My name is ON the account, ma'am!" She was extremely rude the entire time telling me I could make my "own" online account to access our joint account but she would not be able to help me for this.
I remember when being married meant you were one in the same, essentially the same person because you were married. Not anymore. So chances are things have changed from 30 years ago, there probably wasn't the policies like that, as there are now. Frustrating I know. I'm so sorry to hear about the frustrations you are going through, the divorce is enough frustration as it is. :( thoughts and prayers!

Miriam said...

Go, Betty, go!

KLZ said...

Good for you! People think my husband and I are nuts for maintaining separate checking and credit card accounts but nothing irks me more than hearing I can't change our account - so we split them. I think it's really screwed up of the system not to treat married people equally...and makes your situation that much more unfair.

Hilary said...

I've encountered the same issues on lesser important things (cable, phone, internet bills.. etc) but am very lucky because my ex remains a good friend of mine. I can only imagine how frustrating it is when he's uncooperative. Good advice you give to your young readers. I'm sorry you keep encountering roadblocks but these problems and their solutions do indeed make you stronger.

BECKY said...

It's outrageous that in the 21st Frickin' Century this kind of thing is still "the norm" !! It's just nuts....Is it out of the question to ask HOB to meet you at the bank, etc. where there needs to be changes made?..I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but I just gotta ask!

Marg said...

WEll if nothing else, you are getting one heck of an education. Too bad it had to happen the way it did. That really stinks. I am sure you are pulling your hair out by now but try to remember to take it one day at a time. Take care

Michelle Fayard said...

Betty, your post was a heart-breaking eye opener. So would this same situation happen if one spouse were to die? No matter how you set it up, one partner will face this situation with at least half of their accounts. My heart is with you.

Eloise said...

Several years after my ex-husband and his new wife had moved to another city, I finally felt strong enough to contact the phone company and have his name removed from the directory. I was told he would need to contact them and that I would be charged to correct the listing. I thought this over and called back a few days later. This time, I told the representative my husband had died and I needed to have his name removed. I was immediately transferred to a compassionate person who expressed her sympathy and assured me the listing would be changed. Strangely, I felt that I had finally received the sympathy I deserved. Declaring the "death" of my former life made me ready to move on. This was many years ago, I'm sure more documentation is required these days.

Anonymous said...

As in life, so it is in death. Still sucks and documentation is now required.

Retired English Teacher said...

We must be smart in all areas of finances. Thanks for the reminder! I also had to go through what you are going through when I was divorced years ago. The worst part was having to re-establish credit on a much lower income even with the power company. My daughter has also been facing these kinds of problems.
It is disheartening. Even my widowed mother has gone through this.

Sarah said...

Good for you Betty. There's something very wrong with this picture, where we work and contribute just like men, but got secondary status.

Donna said...

I learned this lesson with my divorce years ago...I have now been married to my present hubby for 39yrs. I pay the bills, apply for loans and get them, I've bought the last 4 of 7 cars...have my own rental property...and own 25 shares in HIS company...The key word here is HIS. It's HIS family's plumbing company...I just work here. I truly believe in covering your butt..Hahaaaa...I love him and, he, me....My motto has Always been...'IF she can get him, she can HAVE him but, the Same way I found him...with nothing!'
Proud of you for attacking the problem Betty! Some women can't seem to do anything but cry over it...BIG HUGS to you today!!!
hughugs

Venassa said...

I am so behind, as I knew none of this but I am sorry you're going through it all. I remember when my mom was in this same situation and she did not deal well. This post alone has taught me a lot though. It all sounds like such a huge pain. I will never give up my own bank account if I ever get married.

Ms. A said...

My poor MIL has been having to deal with all these issues, first due to death of a spouse, then due to death of her companion. Believe me, even the fact they were dead didn't make it easier. She is dealing with the very same issues and she's much, much older than you. Can't tell you how many times she's been in tears, trying to get things straightened out.

Nezzy said...

I hear ya loud and strong sister. Seems I do all the bookwork, handle the finances and still...it takes Farm Boy to get a job done.

Ya'd think it would be different in this day and age!

God bless ya and have a remarkable day sweetie!!!

Brian said...

You are always first on our list!!!

Baby Sister said...

Well that sucks. I'm sorry you had to learn that lesson the hard way. Boyfriend and I have talked a lot about finances, but it looks like we have more to cover. :) Good for you Betty, no one deserves to be secondary. *hugs*

Larri @ Seams Inspired said...

I'm blown away by this...and I was in banking for several years. I do have separate everything...accounts, cards, ½ the utilities...and am so glad I do. Kinda makes me sick to my stomach thinking about your situation. And honestly, Betty, even though I NEVER talk like this...I really want to punch HOB in the weiner right about now. ☺ (((HUGS)))

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Things dosen't seem fair especially as it was you husband who wanted you and he to part.
I wish you good luck sorting things through.

Thanks for your support earlier today, Some people wrote some vindictive comments during last night they were annon, and it scared me, but after alot of thought decided why should I give up my years on my blog interacting with so many people I feel I know.

Yvonne.

Gigi said...

I've run across this on a few of our accounts when trying to fix or change something - and we were never asked either. It is just assumed that the person opening the account is the primary.

I'm currently trying to get my lazy husband to have EVERYTHING switched so that we are both primary. Because as I told him, if something happens to him, I would be screwed.

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh Betty. I'm so sorry. But now you have a lawyer, DO NOT let your ex-husband talk you into sharing one. YOU NEED YOUR OWN! I'm sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way. And if you share a lawyer, no one will be looking out for YOU!!!!! And you need that, especially if his name is primary on all the major accounts.

Keep your own lawyer, shark or not. And when the water bill, electric bill, line of credit, anything that comes into your mailbox with ex-HOB being the primary holder of the account, send it to his lawyer, and tell him to pay the bills.

I know it sucks to start over at the beginning, but this is what divorce is all about. A NEW beginning. And yours, although starting rocky, is going to eclipse the brightest star and you will be the BEST BETTY POSSIBLE!

I have faith in YOU!

Brian (not the cat) said...

Grrrr. One word -- alimony.

I heard a story that really takes the cake in this regard. My friend's mom was trying to cancel Dish TV after a dispute with them over some PPV charges she did not incur. The account was in her late husband's name; he has been gone for nine years. They insisted she couldn't cancel the account without his permission. They asked her to fax the death certificate, which she did three times, as they lost it every time, and each time she called them back she had to explain all over again that her husband was long dead, thus reliving that pain. Finally, she was able to cancel the account, and she returned the equipment. But they wanted the dish from the roof, too, and told her she had to take it down herself. My friend's mom is 82. This fact made no difference to them, and they continued to give her a hard time about it.

Ann said...

I remember the nightmare of having to change everything over to my name when I got divorced. I had to call my ex and have him tell the phone company that it was OK to switch the bill to my name. It was ridiculous. Luckily I already had a bank account in my own name since during one of our separations (yes, there was more than one) I had decided I would no longer be on a joint account with him. When I got remarried my husband moved in to my house so everything is in my name now and we have separate bank accounts.

The Green Streak said...

Good advice, Betty! This will be a topic of conversation tonight on our walk. But I know I'm the primary holder of both of our credit cards because they're from education places and I'm the teacher.

jenny_o said...

How frustrating and unfair. Thanks for sharing this as it will surely help other women too. Hang in there.

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

Hi Betty, this happened to me also. My ex was a good person, though, and it did not turn into a problem. I hope HOB is the same. BigB and I keep separate everything. Sometimes I think it is strange and wonder why we do it after 15 years together. But after reading your post I remember why I needed that comfort zone.

Lin said...

Oh, Betty. GOOD POINT! I have been battling this for years as the stay-at-home mom who would "handle" everything. Or not.

We wrote letters to EVERY utility and credit account having me put on as the co-owner (IF you could) on everything. It's crazy.

Recently, we had blood work done for new insurance policies. I called the insurance company to request copies of our blood work be sent to us and they refused. They wanted Joe to call for himself. So I asked that they send it to him Certified mail, but still they refused. BUT--my insurance agent-- a third party STRANGER--could do the very same thing.

How crazy and effed up is that??? Then we received the results in regular mail--I could have opened (and I did) both results. It's just insane.

Now I just call and say I am Joe. It's the only way. They force us to lie.

Zuzana said...

Dear Betty, don't be too hard on yourself. Such is life. We can not guard or protect us from pain and setbacks and we can not think off everything beforehand. When you and your husband started a life together, you also shared the responsibilities between you two. Thus he was the one that took care of the business part of your marriage. He managed the bank accounts and the money business. It is always easy to be wise in retrospect.:)
I am just starting a new relationship and I can tell you straight off that even though we struggle with economical problems right now, the last thing I want to do to separate our economy, because I love the man. I do not want to separate anything between us.
But, it is somewhat easy for me to remain independent as I have been just that my whole life.
I am wishing you from the bottom of my heart that everything will sort itself out for you, you just need to hang in there and adapt - and I know you can do it.;) And hopefully one day you will share your accounts with someone again.;)
Have a great weekend,
xoxo

Julie Dao said...

Betty, this post hit really close to home because my mom was in the exact same situation when she divorced my dad a few years ago. For all of their 25 years of marriage, he had taken care of all the finances and she had trusted him enough to let him do that - a decision she regretted a lot later on. The whole process has made her so much stronger and more independent in her own right, and I'm sure the same will be true of you! No more secondary status - that's right!

LittleSilkDress said...

UGH. How unbelievably maddening! Thank you for the reminder to take care of ourselves financially.

And woohoo! No more secondary!!

faye said...

Yeah for Betty !! Don't stand in the
back line any more...

I have my own checking,savings, annuity
since I had them when Bob and I married..
he put me on all his accounts, but I
didn't do likewise... I saw how that
could go a long time ago..

Get out and about and enjoy the weekend !

Shan said...

Incredible. The thing is, most companies where Tom and I have jointly applied for something not only automatically list him first, they insist on listing him first. Modern day sexism is alive and well.

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Sorry to hear about the financial stumbling blocks. Thanks for a great reminder despite your troubles.

Leanne said...

Wow . . . You have given me, and so many others, some pretty important things to think about, Betty. I hate that you are having to go through all of this, but I so appreciate learning from you. Hugs, my dear friend.

Catherine said...

You have given some very wise advise here today Betty. A woman must always make sure to protect herself. It's not fun to think of such things, but sadly, it is a reality.

Sending you some love and hugs friend!
xo Catherine

Daisy said...

Hind sight is an amazing thing, isn't it. So much mess to wade through. My heart goes out to you, Betty. I hope you can get things all straightened out and come out stronger on the other side.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Very frustrating the way our financial system is set up to favor men. However, I can't see the whole mine, his, ours thing. I think to keep things separate sets the relationship up for failure from the start. On the flip side, should I end up widowed (God forbid), I would probably do a pre-nup before I remarried.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Sorting through the financial b.s. was the biggest, most daunting practical piece of things. I really appreciate this post, Betty, and I'm sorry for all the ridiculous hardship. It adds so much salt to the wound.
Hang in there, primary woman.
xoRobyn

Theres just life said...

Wow is this a hot topic. When you started these accounts and even today. The man is considered the head of the house so he is listed first...ie. primary person. This is not only bad when you get divorced by also after the death of the primary. Most companies, even banks have to have a death certificate before they will make changes and then some of the utilities will make you put down a deposit, even after having the account for years.

By the way did you know you are entitled to half of his retirement accounts if he opened them while you were married. My Aunt found that out after her husband left her for another woman.

Pamela Jo

Joyful said...

It is frustrating to deal with what you are now dealing with. But I am so gratified to hear you have a job and are financially independent. You can start again. It is hard but it can be done. Thank goodness for that. Big hugs.
p.s. I tried to comment on the flower post but I guess it doesn't show up yet ;-)

Don said...

Wow. This system is too stupid for words. Thanks for shining a light on it.

blueviolet said...

Some of this was true for me last year, but we had such a great relationship that anytime anything came up I'd just call him and he'd put the call in to add me to the account, etc. I know my situation wasn't normal though.

EmptyNester said...

I have my own checking account. And we have a joint one. On the deed, I am primary, Hubs is secondary. And I have the electric in my name. Who's idea was all this? My grandmother's. And I've always been glad I listened!

Southwest Arkie said...

Good advice BB- because you.just.never.know. what Life is going to dish out for you.

Pat Tillett said...

I was on the other end of that one when I got divorced. I was advised to take what money was honestly mine and open a new account.

KleinsteMotte said...

That is a familiar topic. When I was a teacher I became union rep and learned that women, even married must have their very own personal account and I counselled my co workers to do it. Many thought nothing would go wrong with them but over time some not so good outcomes came about. Hope you have legal counsel to ensure what's your get to you.

KleinsteMotte said...

PS On another note; be sure to change the beneficiary in any policies you have.

CherylK said...

I totally know where you're coming from and it ain't fun, girl. It will get better, I promise.