Lest we congratulate ourselves too soon on progress on the women's rights front, bear in mind that just a hair over 10 years ago the Veterans Administration, in screening applications for home loans based on a husband and wife's joint income, routinely inquired not only about birth control attitudes, but the how of the couple's practices as well.
And a bank in Virginia was still requiring a wife, as co-signer of a mortgage, to agree to an abortion if she became pregnant during the life of the loan.
While passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in '74 outlawed many of these sexist approaches to the woman-as-borrower, and a much closer approach to equality today does, indeed, exist, there are still pitfalls for women. This is the warning advanced by Emily Card, Ph.D., one of the major authors of the seminal legislation in her valuable "Staying Solvent, A Comprehensive Guide to Equal Credit for Women."
Ironically, too, in the eight community property states--of which California is one--legislation that was designed to make husband and wife 50/50 economic partners actually works to the woman's disadvantage in getting credit in her own name since the Equal Credit Opportunity Act does permit lenders to ask marital status and the name of the spouse and, frequently (although illegally), they stretch that into requiring spousal co-signature.
How the key, 1974, legislation works and how it protects women's credit rights are covered clearly in lay language by Card, who now lives in Los Angeles, writes a monthly column for Ms Magazine and hosts her own cable TV show on financial advice for women. Equally valuable, however, are portions of the book dealing with specific credit problems encountered by women and the response they should make.
Example: A woman is denied credit because she doesn't have a publicly listed telephone number (a favorite collection tool). Solution: remind the lender that he can't deny credit on this ground because many unmarried women avoid sexual harassment by resorting to unlisted phone numbers and this is not a valid indication of credit-worthiness.
Card's one, dominant, advice for all married women: "No matter how happily married you are . . . maintain separate credit."