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How divorce can ruin your chances of buying a car

April may be the cruelest month for poets, but March can be a heartbreaker, emotionally and financially, when it comes to the number of marriages ending.

According to an analysis of divorce filings by legal information provider FindLaw, many divorce proceedings are initiated in January, after the holidays have ended that, but that number apparently surges in March.

Car sales also warm up right about now, as consumers see the end of winter in sight and start to think about the summer driving months. And in a new article for Edmunds.com, contributor Emma Johnson, a financial expert and creator of the popular WealthySingleMommy blog, warns that divorce can both hurt your credit and turn any future plans for purchasing a car into a grueling trial.

Johnson cites data showing that that nearly one-third of people suffered a credit score drop after their divorce. And if the end of your marriage has left you with a low credit score and an unimpressive recent income history, "you have some work to do before buying a car," she said.

Her first piece of advice: review a copy of your credit report and look for black marks. Johnson notes that in a divorce, any joint debt held by the former spouses continues to be reported on both their credit reports until the obligation is resolved or one party's name has been removed from the contract.

So if you still have a joint auto loan on a car -- even a car you no longer own -- and your ex has fallen behind or stopped paying their share, their actions can affect your credit score.

Credit experts interviewed by Johnson suggest working with your former spouse to remove your name from outstanding debts, and from the title of a vehicle you are attached to but no longer own, to ensure your credit history is separated from theirs.

Some other tips:

Be prepared to prove your income. Lenders will want to make sure you have the income needed to cover any future car payments.

Make a decent down payment. Putting down around $1,200 or $1,500 can go a long way when it comes to working with your lender on financing.

Be a loyal customer. Edmunds notes that it costs car dealers less to sell a vehicle to a repeat customer. So if you have a good financing history with a particular brand, car dealerships from that brand will be more likely to work with you.

Get pre-approved. Having a car loan pre-approved before you head out to the dealership means fewer inquiries by the dealer regarding your credit report, inquiries which in turn can further affect your score.

Tell your story. You are more than an electronically generated credit score. "Tell the lender the story of what happened," advised Edmunds.com senior editor Matt Jones. "If you can prove that you have always been responsible and explain your recent change in credit history, that can go a long way."

And remember that tomorrow is another day. Johnson cites a recent Credit.com survey showing that 37 percent of people saw their credit scores improve following their divorce.

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