Legalese — Women and Credit Cards

Susan B. Anthony

There are a lot of rights that have been around long enough that we take them for granted.  But truly, they haven’t been around all that long.  Any right that only came into being during my lifetime is a new one, and I think we need to honor the people that fought for them.

Only forty-five years ago, women had a hard time getting credit cards on their own, single women could hardly do it at all.  Most banks required single, divorced, or widowed women to bring a man along with them to cosign for a credit card.  Married women generally had to have their husband’s permission.  This was true even if they had independent income – their wages were discounted by as much as 50%.

It wasn’t until after a series of congressional hearings led to the passage of the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act that women could universally get their own credit cards without male permission.  This law, codified in 15 U.S.C. §1691 made it “unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction – (1) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age….”

This seems like a fairly obvious statement, but it wasn’t without controversy in 1974, and it needed to be passed into law to make sure it happened.  The measure passed the House 282-94, which means that 94 Congresspeople, about 25% of Congress, voted against it.  (Of those 376 votes, only 16 could be cast by women, as there were only 16 women in the House of Representatives.  None were in the Senate at the time.)

In the official Congressional Findings and Statement of Purpose, found at Pub. L. 93-495, title V, §502, Oct. 28, 1974, 88 Stat. 1521, it says, “The Congress finds that there is a need to insure that the various financial institutions and other firms engaged in the extensions of credit exercise their responsibility to make credit available with fairness, impartiality, and without discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status.  Economic stabilization would be enhanced and competition among the various financial institutions and other firms engaged in the extension of credit would be strengthened by an absence of discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status, as well as by the informed use of credit which Congress has heretofore sought to promote.  It is the purpose of this Act…to require that financial institutions and other firms engaged in the extension of credit make that credit equally available to all credit-worth customers without regard to sex or marital status.”

So there you have it.  While I was alive – and old enough to know how to read, though young enough to be unaware of all of this going on – Congress felt that this was a big enough problem that they took a stand and said “No, you can’t deny a woman a credit card just because she is a woman and just because she is unmarried.”

Think about that for a moment, the next time you just skim by a social media post that says that feminism is a mental illness or unnecessary and all feminists are just man-hating feminazis.  I’m grateful for it and them – because of the people who are mostly all still alive, I can take that right they fought for to the bank with or without my husband’s permission and then go to the grocery store and use my own credit card to charge my celebratory slice of cake without asking anyone else if I can.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice, and the opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author’s.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.  

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