I recently pulled my annual free credit report and was surprised to find that the balance on a credit card my father opened many years ago has grown to $19,000 (there was no balance when I checked last year). It shows up on my report, and my brother’s as well, because we are both authorized to use the card (although we never have).
This situation is heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing for several reasons. My parents have struggled with credit card debt for most of their marriage, in large part because my father has a huge spending problem. Any financial discussions between them lead to catastrophic fights, and at some point my mother decided it was better to keep her marriage than try to collaborate with him in the household planning. As a result, she has no idea where their money goes, and I’m almost positive she has no idea that he has racked up yet another tremendous balance. The only way they were able to get out of credit card debt in the past was to take out an equity loan on their home, which is now worth less than they owe.
My father retired a few years ago and has a state pension that pays about $3000 per month. My mom is still working and brings home about $5,000 per month. I don’t know much about their monthly bills beyond that. I’m 29 and single, with only student debt, but I don’t make enough to help them much. My brother is 26 and lives with them; he’s not in a financial position to help them, either.
I asked my dad about the debt and he brushed it off, saying the reporting must be behind and that I shouldn’t. I know that’s BS, but I don’t know how to tell him that. I also don’t know whether to tell my mom, as I’m not sure their marriage could withstand yet another round of financial disaster.
Adding further stress, I realize that if anything were to happen to my father, my brother and I would both be on the hook for the current balance on that card, and I’m terrified that there are other balances on other cards I’m not aware of that my mom will end up having to deal with. She is trying to retire in 5 years, and this would be devastating news.
I guess my main question is: How do I approach this situation? The fact that I know and my mom doesn’t has put me in a very awkward position. Should I try to approach my dad again? Do I tell my mom? I feel like I’m on a time bomb, and at any moment it could explode. My parents worked so hard throughout their lives to give my brother and me everything we ever needed, and I would do anything to get them out of this mess in a positive way. But I don’t want to get in the middle of a situation that could permanently damage my parents’ relationship. Any advice is very much appreciated.