Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Amazing Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug (1920-1998) is hard to forget. As a United States Congresswoman during the 1970s, Ms. Abzug was known for her straight talking political style, her conscientious devotion to equality and justice, and of course, her colorful hats.  

During her career, Congresswoman Abzug fought to protect and strengthen the rights of women and minorities. Not immune from discrimination herself, Ms. Abzug championed the elimination of gender biased credit card requirements. As a Congresswomen, Ms. Abzug had been denied an American Express credit card simply because her husband had not co-signed her credit card application!

Recently, I was reminded of Ms. Abzug after reading about the problems associated with the new credit card law that went into effect last October (the Credit Accountability, Responsibility & Disclosure Act, aka CARD)Under CARD, credit card companies must now consider "individual" rather than "household" income or assets when issuing cards. The changes were intended to prevent banks from issuing credit cards to college students who would run up thousands of dollars of debt without an ability to pay. But apparently, no one realized that the new law would have some unintended consequences for stay-at-home parents. Sometimes the best intentions can go awry.

"Women have been trained
to speak softly and carry a lipstick.
Those days are over." Bella Abzug
Banks and other financial institutions have interpreted the new credit card law to mean that people without a paycheck or ample personal savings are ineligible for credit cards. That, of course, includes spouses who don't work-- husbands in some cases but most often wives. 

The law looks like a throw back to the 1950s, when women needed their husbands' signature to open a bank account or obtain credit, even when they had jobs and incomes of their own.

The law undermines 35 years of progress for married women (and married men if they do not work outside the home). Non-earning spouses aren't adult children sponging off benevolent parents--they're equal contributors to the household, providing vital and necessary work. Shouldn't they have a credit card in their own name?

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