When Corporate Cards Hurt Personal Credit

VIDEO: Company credit cards and your credit score

They go by many names: corporate cards, company cards, travel cards and purchase cards. Whatever you call them, American workers charged $140 billion on them last year.

And if you don't know how yours works, you could be responsible for that balance.

Plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, office supplies, plumbing supplies, party supplies -- these are all things your company could ask you to charge. But beware: if you use a corporate credit card, there's a chance you could be stuck with the bill.

VIDEO: Company credit cards and your credit score
Can Company Credit Cards Affect Your Credit?

Charley Heiges used to work for a company that manufactured duck hunting decoys. But when the company went under, Heiges felt like he was the one being hunted -- over his $10,000 company credit card tab.

"I was beside myself," Heiges told "Good Morning America." "There was absolutely no communication at all indicating that I would be liable for a credit card I was using that belonged to a corporation that I worked for."

According to the business research firm RPMG, 35 percent of corporate cards have individual or joint liability arrangements where the employee is responsible for the debt.

CLICK HERE for Web Extra tips on what to do before, during and after your make purchases with a corporate card to protect yourself.

And, believe it or not, large companies -- including many fortune 500 firms -- are the most likely to make their employees personally liable for their company cards.

"This is just so destructive to individuals like myself that had no idea that this could happen," Heiges said.

Heiges' employer had never paid his final bill. He found out when he got turned down for a personal loan and the loan officer told him he had a lousy credit score.

"I just went numb. I said to her, 'You must be looking at the wrong credit report,'" Heiges said.

The idea of paying your company's delinquent debt is bad enough, but the impact on your credit score is even worse.

Heiges' score plunged more than a hundred points, causing a ripple effect he says cost him tens of thousands in lost business opportunities. He said he is hoping to find an attorney to help him sue.

"My credit score had been destroyed. My life had been destroyed," he said. "I basically lost everything."

Heiges is not alone. The legal website Avvo.com has seen a huge uptick in questions about corporate card liability since the recession hit.

"The credit card company can come after your company, the one that issued the corporate credit card, or they can come after you personally and that's where a lot of people get confused and hurt," Avvo founder and CEO Mark Britton said.

How to Protect Yourself: Before You Get the Card

Adam Levin of Credit.com told "GMA" that the warning sings that you could be held personally liable for corporate debt usually show up during the corporate card application process.

"Where the bells and whistles and red flags and flashing lights should go off is if you're the one filling out the application, and you're signing and you're giving your social security number," he said.

Here are key indicators that you may be held responsible for your corporate card balance:

If the corporate account shows up on your personal credit report.

If you are required to pay the bill yourself and then get reimbursed.

If you provided personal financial information to get the card.

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