Do you or don't you? If you're a woman applying for credit and your bank says your husband has to sign, do you go along? If you're the husband, asked to add your name to a loan of your wife's, do you agree?

Federal law says, don't. It is usually illegal for a lender to order a husband to sign with his wife. The trouble is that in a very few instances, the lender may be within his rights -- which makes it hard to know for sure when you're being discriminated against.

Federal law is plain. A lender cannot refuse to give a woman a personal loan on her own signature if she has enough of her own income or assets to repay. It cannot impose higher credit standards on her than it would a man in her position.

If she does not have enough income or assets, it is perfectly legal to demand that she find a creditworthy cosigner. But it cannot tell her to get her husband to sign. Any creditworthy cosigner will do. The husband must cosign only if she offers his income and assets as loan collateral.

That's the easy part. Here is the murk:

The equal-credit law does not apply to business loans. If a woman approaches a banker for money to start a company, he can discriminate against her all he likes. Her husband might find himself forced to cosign the business loan, even though his wife has enough income and assets to repay without help. If the husband refuses to sign, it's perfectly legal for the banker to refuse her the loan. Many lenders, of course, wouldn't act this way. But others like to go after both signatures, because if the wife's business fails, the bank could then pursue the husband for payment, too.

Business borrowers -- men as well as women -- are also up against another wall.

When you are denied a personal loan, the lender must -- by law -- tell you the specific reason why. If your turndown resulted from a mistaken credit report, you can straighten out the record and apply for your loan again.

But no reason need be given if you're turned down for a business loan. "A competitor across the street could maliciously say or do something that would hurt your credit and you'd never know it," said Federal Trade Commissioner Patricia Bailey. No law requires the credit bureau to reinvestigate business credit reports, delete inaccuracies or add your side of the story to the credit file.

The credit laws involving joint property are sort of, part way, almost clear. If a wife puts up joint property as collateral for a loan, the lender usually cannot require that the husband also sign. He can legally be asked to sign whatever releases are required by state law, so the bank can get at the property if the wife defaults. But he cannot be asked to sign the loan document itself.

Well, almost. A Federal Reserve spokesman says that in some states, where couples own real estate through tenancy by the entirety (a specific way of holding joint property), it can be difficult for a lender to reach the collateral after default unless the husband also signs the loan. In those cases, it would be legal for the lender to require his signature. The FTC legal staff disagrees, saying that in no case can the husband be asked to sign the loan document itself.

Lenders can take advantage of these confusions by demanding both signatures when they're not necessary. Best advice: Always protest; don't ask a spouse to sign unless the bank actually shows you the applicable state law; ask the lender whether it is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve or the FTC, with regard to enforcement of the equal-credit law (the law says that the lender has to tell you); and check with a competing lender, to see if its policies are more liberal.

*There can be special credit loopholes in the eight community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington). There, a wife has the legal right to half of her husband's income and half the STAYING AHEAD Equal Credit Laws Don't Always Apply in Question of Cosigners By Jane Bryant Quinn

Do you or don't you? If you're a woman applying for credit and your bank says your husband has to sign, do you go along? If you're the husband, asked to add your name to a loan of your wife's, do you agree?

Federal law says, don't. It is usually illegal for a lender to order a husband to sign with his wife. The trouble is that in a very few instances, the lender may be within his rights -- which makes it hard to know for sure when you're being discriminated against.

Federal law is plain. A lender cannot refuse to give a woman a personal loan on her own signature if she has enough of her own income or assets to repay. It cannot impose higher credit standards on her than it would a man in her position.

If she does not have enough income or assets, it is perfectly legal to demand that she find a creditworthy cosigner. But it cannot tell her to get her husband to sign. Any creditworthy cosigner will do. The husband must cosign only if she offers his income and assets as loan collateral.

That's the easy part. Here is the murk:

The equal-credit law does not apply to business loans. If a woman approaches a banker for money to start a company, he can discriminate against her all he likes. Her husband might find himself forced to cosign the business loan, even though his wife has enough income and assets to repay without help. If the husband refuses to sign, it's perfectly legal for the banker to refuse her the loan. Many lenders, of course, wouldn't act this way. But others like to go after both signatures, because if the wife's business fails, the bank could then pursue the husband for payment, too.

Business borrowers -- men as well as women -- are also up against another wall.

When you are denied a personal loan, the lender must -- by law -- tell you the specific reason why. If your turndown resulted from a mistaken credit report, you can straighten out the record and apply for your loan again.

But no reason need be given if you're turned down for a business loan. "A competitor across the street could maliciously say or do something that would hurt your credit and you'd never know it," said Federal Trade Commissioner Patricia Bailey. No law requires the credit bureau to reinvestigate business credit reports, delete inaccuracies or add your side of the story to the credit file.

The credit laws involving joint property are sort of, part way, almost clear. If a wife puts up joint property as collateral for a loan, the lender usually cannot require that the husband also sign. He can legally be asked to sign whatever releases are required by state law, so the bank can get at the property if the wife defaults. But he cannot be asked to sign the loan document itself.

Well, almost. A Federal Reserve spokesman says that in some states, where couples own real estate through tenancy by the entirety (a specific way of holding joint property), it can be difficult for a lender to reach the collateral after default unless the husband also signs the loan. In those cases, it would be legal for the lender to require his signature. The FTC legal staff disagrees, saying that in no case can the husband be asked to sign the loan document itself.

Lenders can take advantage of these confusions by demanding both signatures when they're not necessary. Best advice: Always protest; don't ask a spouse to sign unless the bank actually shows you the applicable state law; ask the lender whether it is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve or the FTC, with regard to enforcement of the equal-credit law (the law says that the lender has to tell you); and check with a competing lender, to see if its policies are more liberal.

*There can be special credit loopholes in the eight community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington). There, a wife has the legal right to half of her husband's income and half the marital property, so the law considers her creditworthy even if she doesn't have a job. A lender can ask about her marital status and inquire into the reliability of her husband's income, if she depends on it when asking for credit. But the lender cannot require her husband's signature, even on an unsecured loan, because she's entitled to pledge her half of the marital property without his say-so. marital property, so the law considers her creditworthy even if she doesn't have a job. A lender can ask about her marital status and inquire into the reliability of her husband's income, if she depends on it when asking for credit. But the lender cannot require her husband's signature, even on an unsecured loan, because she's entitled to pledge her half of the marital property without his say-so.