Millions of consumers have begun to receive "Credit History for Married Persons" notices with their credit card bills. Under new regulations to the equal Credit Opportunity Act, companies are required to ask customers with joint accounts if they would like the histories of their accounts to be sent with both spouses' names to credit reporting agencies.
Women who sign and return notices will receive a separate credit history for activity on joint accounts. Creditors will not be required to open separate charge accounts for spouses, only to report account activity to credit bureaus individually.
The "Credit History for Married Persons" notice is not concerned with changing liability or responsibility for debts incurred on accounts. The regulations will only serve to give women a credit history in their own names.
"There are several principles here to understand in the June 1 regulation," said David Murray, manager of the Credit Bureau of Washington. "If a woman signs and returns the ECOA notice, creditors will report this to us and we will separate the joint file into his and her files. But this regulation, and indeed the credit bureau, will have nothing to do with liability. If a woman wants to change her status on a charge account, she must contact the store separately."
The Equal Credit opportunity Act, which became law in October of 1975, prohibits creditors from:
Considering members of one sex more favorably than the other.
Requesting information about birth control practices or family planning.
Excluding alimony, child support, part-time work, or public assistance payments from income, if so desired by the applicant.
Refusing to reveal all sources of information to an applicant.
Requesting information on a spouse if an applicant will accept all financial obligation or if the spouse's income will not be depended on for acceptance to the application.
The act was not met with universal acceptance. Consumer groups complain that there are 12 agencies, ranging from the Federal Reserve System to the Civil Aeronautics Board, who will enforce the act. Creditors say that they cannot even understand the wording of the bill and expect very little response from the notices.
"We're lucky if we get 10 per cent to respond," said an attorney from Montgomery Ward. "And anyway, the women who have pushed this bill, probably even those who respond, aren't those who need it. The supporters are mostly working women and could get all the credit they want."
Dolores Smith, staff attorney in the Equal Credit Opportunity Division Federal Reserve System, questioned this statement. "Surely the law does not solve all credit problems for women. But it is a step in the right direction. Before the act, too many creditors were denying individual credit to women who were credit-worthy in their own right."