There are a number of potential problems regarding credit and credit reports which women, in paticular must be aware of. These result primarily from possible changes in marital status such as divorce or widowhood and from possible discrimination against women in the granting of credit.
The US Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 to protect citizens against discrimination based on gender, age, color, religion and national origin. But although this makes it difficult for companies to overtly discriminate against women in the granting of credit, more subtle forms of discrimination occur. Additionally, women need to ensure that their credit histories are kept updated whenever their names or accounts with particular creditors are altered due to changes in their marital status.
Obligations of Creditors:
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act means the following:
As a married women, you are under no obligation to apply for credit jointly with your spouse. You may (and it's a good idea to) apply as an independent entity in your own right.
You are under no obligation to divulge your marital status when applying for unsecured credit such as a credit card. You can simply use your first and last name without adding 'Ms' or 'Mrs'. This assumes, of course, that you are applying independently of your husband. If not, your marital status will be requested.
You may use either your married name or your maiden name or both when applying for credit.
If you are receiving child support or alimony payments, the creditor is obligated to consider these as part of your income. In this case, however, the creditor may legally request information regarding your husband or former husband.
You may choose to divulge information about your spouse if you feel it will add to your credit worthiness, but you are not obligated to do so.
The above rules do not apply in so-called community property states. These are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington .
Potential Problems Due to Changes in Marital Status:
A common example of this sort of dillemma is the woman who suddenly finds herself divorced after years of engaging in good credit habits using her husband's credit cards. She applies for credit herself and is denied because she has no credit history. This is because her husband's credit card account was not an account which listed her as a joint applicant. So the records and payments on the card accounts were not reported to the credit bureaus in her name.
As a general rule, it is important that a woman establish a credit history in her own name. If you have been married for several years and have so far failed to do this, it can take a bit of effort because you will need to contact each of your creditors and ask to be sent new application materials to make you a joint applicant with your husband, for example. Once you have allowed some time for your creditors to report a consistent history of responsibility to the credit bureaus, it is a good idea to obtain credit in your own name such as with a credit card. For newly married women, it is a good idea to keep your credit accounts separate from your husband's. If you choose to use your married name on accounts, make a point to inform your creditors of this change and to update their records correspondingly.
If you choose to maintain joint accounts with your husband, realize that there is still a separate credit history for you as far as the credit bureaus are concerned, and you need to make sure that the payment history of the joint accounts are reported to the three main credit bureaus. If in doubt, order a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies to verify. You will find their addresses listed on our Credit Bureaus page.
Before opting for joint accounts with your husband, though, remember that they come with a joint liability in case of future problems. Although newlyweds are reluctant to consider such problems, they can be devastating and must be factored into any serious planning of your credit future. Not only can a husband's bad credit habits damage your credit history, but divorce can be costly as well since liabilities are often shared between spouses. So debts incurred by your husband on a joint account can become partly your responsibility and affect your credit rating if you go through divorce proceedings. Additionally, it's quite possible for your income and general financial situation to change after a divorce. If this change is for the better, due to divorce settlements, alimony, a new job, etc. be sure to let future creditors know this so that they may make a judgement independent of past negative information which may exist on your credit report due to joint accounts previously held with your former husband.