What if You Had to Ask Your Husband’s Permission for a Credit Card?


What If You Had To Ask Your Husband's Permission For A Credit Card?People have a lot of opinions about money.

In our new “Money Mic” series, we’ll hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a money topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, Anisha Sekar, chief content manager and credit card industry analyst for NerdWallet.com, tells us why she thinks the Credit CARD Act hurts women:

The Federal Reserve had the best of intentions. But in an attempt to protect college students, it hurt the financial independence of thousands of women.

In order to prevent college kids from digging themselves too deeply into debt, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 required credit card applicants to either make enough income to merit their credit limit or have a cosigner who would be legally liable for their debts.

A stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid.

No Credit Without Your Husband’s Permission

Earlier this year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income.” This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account.

Are Stay-At-Home Moms Second-Class Citizens?

As far as I’m concerned, a stay-at-home mom works just as hard as (or harder than) her spouse—she just doesn’t file her income with the IRS. She is also likely to make the household’s financial decisions, from paying for groceries to saving for college to dealing with medical bills. So why is she relegated to second-class citizenship, a subordinate who can only get a credit card with her husband’s say?

The Fed Just Calls This “Inconvenient”—Not Discriminatory

In response to criticism from women’s rights advocates who believe that access to credit is a key tenet of financial independence, the Federal Reserve noted that the individual-income provision may be “inconvenient or impractical,” but that such restrictions are necessary to prevent reckless lending and borrowing.

Others agree: CardHub.com CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou says, “This is Underwriting 101… you can only lend to people who can afford to pay it back.” His suggestion is for a nonworking spouse to sign up for a joint credit card with her spouse, which allows the nonworking spouse to build her credit score despite not having an income. But what good will a credit score do if you’re automatically disqualified?

Restriction, Humiliation and Worse

I can’t overstate the psychological effect of relying completely on a spouse for such an essential part of adult finances. Refusing credit completely devalues a stay-at-home parent’s contribution, essentially saying that the household’s income belongs solely to the wage-earner.

In addition to contributing to the psychological shame of being an unequal partner in a relationship, this also renders stay-at-home parents financially vulnerable in the case of divorce. If a stay-at-home mom’s spouse is irresponsible, her credit score will fall—and she can’t repair it without her own line of credit.

Does This Make Women More Vulnerable to Financial Abuse?

The most dire implications are for women trapped in abusive relationships. If a woman can’t get a line of credit without her husband’s approval, she is less able to leave a failing relationship. According to Rene Renick of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a joint line of credit opens an abused woman to even greater exploitation. Financial abuse is one of the least recognized but most significant ways that a batterer controls his victim: Not only can an abusive partner use the money irresponsibly and ruin the victim’s ability to get credit later, but he can use the account to track her if she tries to leave.

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“Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships. I can’t tell you the number of women who’ve said, ‘I stayed in the relationship longer than I wanted, or came back, [because] I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids,’” says Renick. “[The Fed’s regulations] will limit a woman’s ability to have access to assets on her own. Batterers will more than likely use this to … keep her entrapped in the relationship.”

A Household’s Income Is More Than a Salary

When one spouse works outside the home and the other inside, the stay-at-home spouse makes an invaluable monetary contribution to the household, not least because the employed spouse wouldn’t be able to focus on work and earn as much without her. She makes crucial financial decisions without thinking that she’s spending “her husband’s money.” A well-functioning partnership recognizes that a household’s income is just that—it belongs to the household. A stay-at-home mother should not be punished because of the sphere in which she works.

Anisha Sekar


Author Anisha Sekar is the chief content manager and a credit card analyst for NerdWallet.com.

  • Putnambeth2001

    We are just talking about credit. If you don’t work (have income) you don’t get any. Why are you asking the financial industry to solve all the problems of the stay at home parent? When did banks become responsible to solve problems of abuse?

  • http://twitter.com/RiverHawthorn River Hawthorn

    This article should have been entitled “What if you had to ask your SPOUSE’s permission for a credit card?”. By turning this into some sort of issue of hate against women it has taken us off the issue at hand and put it on women’s rights, women in abusive relationships, etc. I can honestly say I’ve known more men that have been financially abused then women. I also know women who are single mothers, living off credit, who do so with no intent of ever paying it back and who spend the child support they receive on $100 jeans and the newest iPhone.  Most of the women I know who stay with their husbands because of money isn’t because they are afraid of where the food is going to come from, it’s because they’ve run up large amounts of credit debt on non-necessary purchases and need their spouse to pay them off. 

    I understand that this is a site aimed at women.. however, this is an issue that effects EVERYONE, including our male friends, brothers, fathers, sons, etc. who are stay at home DADS or have other reason that they must stay home instead of working. I, for one, do not appreciate it being turned into a “This new credit card act is discriminatory against WOMEN.” No. It’s discriminatory towards anyone who does not have a regular form of income. I am offended by the fact that this article had to be aimed to make me dislike this new credit card act based on the fact that I’m a WOMAN, and not based on the fact that the idea is flawed and I’m intelligent enough to form an opinion on whether I agree or disagree.

    Discuss abusive relationships over finances in a different article please.. I came expecting to find real information and to make a decision based on facts regarding the act, not to listen to some rant about women’s rights and single mothers.

  • XMarkstheSpot

    I don’t see what the issue is.  Firstly, most normal woman in one-income families wouldn’t get a credit card without discussing it with their husbands first – ESPECIALLY if that other person is the one bringing in the income. Yes, the ACTUAL CASH that will be used to pay off said Credit Card.  “Oh but stay at home moms DO work – they just don’t declare their income.” Um,they don’t have any income. Financial Institutions don’t care – nor is it their job to care – what a stay at home mom contributes at home.  That’s not their problem. Their problem is getting their money paid back.

    You are encouraging people to support the exact thing that got us into this economic mess in the first place – giving credit to people who don’t have the money to pay it back.

    Not exactly good, sound financial advice, Learn Vest. And that’s what I come here for.

    So, yes, the person who will be actually paying off that credit card, with actual real hard cash, SHOULD be made aware, and have to co-sign, on any new CC.

  • Lisarmcdonough

    This is the petition I wrote today to get stay at home moms and dads their rights back to use household income when applying for a credit card.  Please sign.
    Please forward to anyone who may care.

  • Patter122

    Further movement towards making a working man completely liable for out of control debts incurred by his spouse.  Men – marry at your peril.

  • Mary Oberst

    Card Act has a “new name” for housewives, “Worthless”!

    Who would have thought that after 34 years of keeping good credit in “my own name”, that my rights would have been desolved by the Card ACT? My husband’s income, our 401k, IRA, savings, two paid for homes, cars, truck etc. were not considered, only my “own” personal income. To be labeled as “worthless” by the Card Act, and deemed “unfit” for credit is a low blow to all housewives. Teenagers with jobs, foreigners who work in the US, and people on welfare can get credit cards. My own son has a credit card! The lady I spoke to about my credit card, suggest that I vote for a different candidate. I think I will.

  • Emily S

    While I wholeheartedly agree that a stay at home parent’s work is just as important as any other job, it makes sense to me that a credit card issuer would only issue an individual credit account to an individual who can verify his or her own income—since he or she would be the only one responsible for paying back the debt.

    And if a couple is comfortable in a situation in which one partner does not work outside the home to have such verifiable income, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be willing to apply for joint credit.

    This isn’t just an issue of people being able to make their own choices—it’s also a question of financial institutions being able to make loans that they know will be paid back. We don’t need a return of risky lending practices that trap consumers in a downward cycle of bad debt.

  • Steven B

    If working at home (which the father does too btw) is equal, why is it that women divorce men that decide to stay at home???? Also, if the work is “equal” then women should be volunteering an extra 40% of their work time to the government in taxes. Let me guess, you also think it is ok for a wife to refuse to have sex with her husband if she does not feel like it but it is abusive for a husband to not allow his wife to buy 10 pairs of shoes on credit when she has no income…. Boys do not get married, women have no restraints left holding their vicious nature back… Times have changed
    -Women initiate 78% of divorces
    -52% of marriages end in divorce within 10 years
    -97% of alimony payers are men
    -lifetime alimony is permanent slavery to a woman that often times cheated with you and your money is being spent on the next man
    -women cheat more often then men but get caught less
    -you loose all bargaining power as soon as you marry because of the unfair divorce laws so she can treat you and demand whatever she wants and you can’t afford to say no

  • mitzy

    Simple solution get a prenup that if one spouse stays home with children, the orher spouse PAYS them the going rate it would cost the working spouse to have someone provide all the services she/he provides to the worker . oh don’t forget the cost of ” sexual servicing”. I mean being someones spouse isnt an agreement for human slavery. See people who THINK they are better thanr thcause they have an income should pay up or get over there freebie expectations