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What happens to credit card debt when you die?

Published 6:27 a.m. UTC Dec. 12, 2023

When someone dies, they sometimes still owe creditors money, like a mortgage, student loans or credit cards — leaving loved ones to deal with financial issues along with their grief.


So, what happens to credit card debt when you die, and do your loved ones have to pay the debt? Learn more about this important estate planning topic, including steps to take when someone dies and how to protect your assets from creditors.

Who is responsible for credit card debt after death?

Generally, when someone passes away, any outstanding debts are paid through cash and other assets in their estate. This process is handled by the executor of their will or trust. If they don’t have an estate plan, the probate court handles the distribution of assets.


When someone dies and their estate does not have enough assets to cover their obligations, the creditors typically write off the remaining debt.


However, there are certain circumstances where someone else is liable for the deceased’s credit card debt and other financial obligations.


  • Joint account holder. Joint account holders are equally responsible for the debt incurred, even if they never used the credit card or benefited from the loan proceeds.
  • Co-signer on the account. If you’re a co-signer on a credit card or loan, you guarantee the debt will be repaid. When the other person dies, you must make all remaining payments.
  • Those living in certain states. Some state laws require that surviving spouses are responsible for debt incurred by the deceased spouse, even if their name isn’t on the account. As an executor or administrator of an estate, you may be required to pay outstanding bills from the estate’s proceeds.
  • Community property states. If you live in a community property state, local laws require that you pay off the debts of a deceased spouse from jointly-held property. These states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In Alaska, you can choose community property or not.

While authorized users have charging privileges, they are not responsible for paying off the deceased’s credit card debt.

If you feel a creditor is trying to hold you accountable for a debt that you don’t believe you owe, contact a lawyer familiar with consumer law, estate law or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Legal aid offices, legal clinics and Eldercare Locator may be able to provide free or low-cost assistance. Servicemembers or their surviving spouses should consult with their local armed forces legal assistance office.

Steps to take when a credit card holder dies

When someone dies, the executors of the estate are responsible for many tasks. Included in these tasks is handling the deceased’s credit cards and other financial accounts. Follow these steps to close a deceased person’s credit cards:

1. Create a list of accounts and balances owed


Before the estate makes any payments, you should first make a list of all creditors and amounts owed. This includes mortgages, auto loans, student loans, personal loans and credit cards. Add up how much is owed and determine which accounts are secured versus unsecured to determine how they’ll be repaid. For example, a mortgage is secured by a home, while a credit card is typically unsecured.

2. Stop using the credit cards

Credit cards that were owned by a deceased person are no longer valid. This includes charges for their funeral, burial or related expenses. Continued use of a deceased person’s credit cards could be considered fraud, even if you’re an authorized user.

If the cards have recurring transactions, contact those vendors to ask them to cancel future charges. Review statements from the previous 12 months because some charges occur quarterly or annually instead of monthly.

3. Get certified copies of the death certificate

Many banks, lenders and other companies require proof of death. A certified copy of the death certificate should be available at the local county recorder’s office. When requesting certified copies of the death certificate, get extras because some creditors will accept a copy, while others require an original.

4. Contact the credit card companies

Contact all creditors to inform them about the person’s death as soon as possible. Examples include credit card companies, mortgage companies and auto lenders. This stops interest and late fees from accruing and lets them know to decline future charges. Phone numbers for these companies are available on monthly statements, on the creditor’s website and on the back of each credit card.

5. Notify the credit bureaus

The deceased’s spouse or executor of the estate should notify the credit bureaus that the person has passed away. You only need to contact one credit bureau about the death because it will notify the others automatically. Request a freeze be placed on their credit report. This prevents anyone from opening additional credit cards, loans or other debt in their name.

After calling one of the credit bureaus, follow up with a letter containing the deceased’s information and a copy of the death certificate. Include your information in case the bureaus have any questions. If you are not the deceased’s spouse, include a copy of the legal document authorizing you to act on their behalf.

Credit Bureau Phone Number Address
Equifax 888-548-7878 Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348-5139
Experian 888-397-3742 Experian’s Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion 800-916-8800 TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Wait one to two weeks, then request a copy of the deceased’s credit report from each bureau. You can confirm the credit freeze is in place and ensure you haven’t missed notifying any of the deceased’s creditors about their death.


How does credit card debt get paid after death?

If the deceased passed away with credit card debt, their balances typically are paid from the proceeds of their estate. Depending on their assets and how much they owe, the debt may be repaid quickly from their cash. Otherwise, the creditors may have to wait until the deceased’s home, investments and other assets are liquidated.


In certain situations mentioned above, the surviving spouse, joint account holder or co-signers may be liable for the debt. When this happens, the balance owed can be repaid immediately or in monthly installments in line with the original loan agreement.


How can you protect certain assets from creditors?

With proper estate planning, you can protect your assets from creditors, including credit card companies. Here are a few strategies that can protect assets or pay off debts.


Purchase life insurance: Creditors cannot lay claim to life insurance proceeds unless you name your estate as the beneficiary.

Transfer assets while alive: Giving away assets while you’re alive is a common estate planning strategy. It reduces the portion of your estate subject to taxes and allows you to see your heirs enjoy your generosity.


Besides simply giving away your assets, this can be done through creating an irrevocable living trust or changing the title on your assets to your beneficiary. Doing this can also reduce any fighting among family after your death.

Maximize retirement plan contributions: Contributions to workplace retirement plans are generally shielded from creditors. IRAs offer limited protections up to specific amounts.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is credit card debt forgiven after death?

If the deceased’s estate does not have enough assets to pay off the credit card debt, the card issuer will write off the debt. In some cases, the surviving spouse, joint cardholder or co-signer may still be liable for the balance owed.

Do joint credit card holders have to pay off the debt after one cardholder dies?

Yes, you are liable for the entire debt as a joint cardholder. The debt is not forgiven because the other person died. You must continue making payments on the account to avoid penalties and negative marks on your credit.


Authorized users, however, are not liable for the credit card debt.

What is the difference between unsecured and secured debt?

An unsecured debt is not backed by a specific asset and the lender must get a court judgment to collect if you stop paying. Secured debt is attached to an asset, like a home or car. The lender may repossess the asset if you fail to repay a secured loan.

What can I do about harassment from creditors?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), creditors may not harass debtors. Collection efforts must follow certain rules, and there are penalties if the creditor does not follow them. If you feel that you’re being harassed, submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or contact your state attorney general’s office.

How do I contact the credit bureaus about a deceased person?

When someone dies, you only need to contact one credit bureau about their death. The credit bureau will notify the others automatically. Start by calling one of the credit bureaus to notify them of the death, then follow up with a letter. In that letter, include a copy of the death certificate and (if you’re not the spouse) a copy of a legal document establishing your authority to act on behalf of the deceased.

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Renee E. Nesbit, Attorney at Law

1415 Panther Lane, Suite 434
Naples FL 34109

The information contained on this website is presented for informational and marketing purposes only and is not to be understood as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice respecting your individual needs. Renee E. Nesbit, Attorney at Law looks forward to speaking with you about your particular needs. Please note, however, that the mere act of contacting our firm does not create an attorney-client relationship. As a result, you should never send any confidential information to our office until a Representation Agreement has been signed by both you and Renee E. Nesbit, Attorney at Law.

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