What will new credit card regulations mean for women?

Disclaimer: I hate credit. It just feels wrong that I’m forced to borrow money from some big credit card company month after month, even if I don’t want or need access to any funds beyond what I hold in my bank account, just so I can improve my “score” and people in society will trust me enough to give me things I need to survive, like the ability to rent an apartment. That being said, I go along with this hair-brained scheme because we live in a capitalist society where no one trusts each other and apparently coming to terms with that is part of being a grownup (along with learning to like the taste of beer and not tittering when someone in a fancy suit and tie uses the phrase “do do”, as in, “those attorneys don’t do pro-bono work, so I’m not quite sure what they do do for charity”). And, oh yeah, because I sort of like being able to rent my own place.

Anyway, this post is not about me! Or my immature, slightly bitter views on credit. It is about a very interesting and important perspective on the new credit card regulations and how they will affect women, written by a smartie smart pants named Bryce Covert. Covert has written a great piece over at the Nation on whether women face a credit crunch under coming (needed) credit card industry reforms, and the genuine dilemma regarding whether, as credit card companies are forced to better evaluate borrower’s ability to use credit, women who stay at home or are divorced, widowed, or abused will have a harder time accessing credit. An excerpt:

“But as the market expanded, so did credit card companies’ predatory practices. And that burden didn’t fall equally on men and women; women are bearing the brunt of it….11 percent of single women with credit card balances pay rates higher than 20 percent, compared to only 6 percent of single men.… Other predators, such as subprime lenders, have also targeted women. While they have the same credit scores, women were 32 percent more likely to receive high-cost subprime mortgages than men across all income and ethnic groups.

Covert explains some of these discrepancies as so:

“Women are targeted for these higher-cost products along with minorities and low-income individuals because they tend to be less financially secure, making them likely targets for higher interest rates.”

Ok. So, given the state of things now, how will new credit regulations affect women?

“Stay-at-home mothers (and, for that matter, stay-at-home fathers) will see their access compromised. A woman at a department store counter without her own income will likely be turned down, and a bank will ask her to involve her husband so the lender can work around the rule. However, if the card she carries is not in her name, she will not be building her own credit history. Divorced or widowed women will therefore find it harder to borrow just when they most need to.

And this could be even worse for women in abusive relationships. With less of a chance to build an independent credit history, and with landlords and some employers running credit checks, abused women may have few escape routes”

Covert concludes that, after the new regulations kick in, bankers may end up saying to women who stay at home, “Bring your husband down so we can figure this out.

Also of interest, for those of you who would like to explore this subject in more detail, or prefer consuming your media via audio, Emily Douglas did an interview with the author of this piece on what the new credit card regulations will mean for women. It’s short and to the point, but they discuss things that weren’t covered in the original article, like how credit “democratized” and whether deregulation had any role in extending credit to borrowers who had faced discrimination in the early years of the industry (hint: it didn’t). Worth a listen.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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