New law may hurt stay-at-home parents' credit

March 1, 2012 5:18:10 PM PST
A new law could make it harder for stay-at-home parents to get their own credit cards. This new law means that stay-at-home moms and stay-at-home dads may have to rely on someone else to establish credit. As it turns out, banks are not happy about this either.

Anna Simmons is a stay-at-home mom from San Anselmo. She does the laundry, cooks all the meals, takes care of the kids, volunteers at their schools, but she might not be able to get a credit card.

"It's distressing to me, I'm an educated person, I have a law degree, I feel like I work hard and contribute to the family unit and now I can't even get a credit card in my own name," said Simmons.

That's because a new federal rule has changed how applicants state their income on credit card applications. Applicants can no longer claim household income. Each applicant must state how much they make as individuals. That's a problem for Simmons, and other families in which only one spouse works outside the home.

"I pay our bills, I help manage our investments and I monitor our investments, I do house maintenance, yard maintenance," said Simmons.

Consumer Action's Joe Rideout said the banks may be to blame.

"The problems is not the regulations themselves, the problem lies squarely with the banks and their sloppy underwriting standards that led to a lot of credit card defaults in the first place," said Rideout.

New York Congresswoman Carole Maloney wrote the original legislation with the intention of protecting college students.

"It had a standard of independent ability to pay for college students so they would not graduate with overwhelming burdens of debt," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York.

"There's a perception that college kids don't manage their credit card well, more or less based on anecdotes, but the data showed that college kids manage their credit card debt as well as if not better than the average credit card holder," said Nessa Feddis.

Feddis is the senior counsel for regulatory compliance at the American Bankers Association. She says the new law discriminates against everyone.

"The rule flies in the face of fair lending laws that were intended to help women get access to credit, to build their credit history, and to be more independent," said Feddis.

When the bill made it to the senate, provisions were added that expanded the rules to apply to everyone.

Congresswoman Maloney, as well as the banks, are now calling on the Federal Reserve to revise the new rules to reduce impact on stay-at-home parents.

In the meantime, Simmons has applied for a credit card and hopes the credit card company still gives her credit.

"It implies what they do for the family or their contribution is less valuable, because they can't even get their own credit card," said Simmons.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the work of a stay-at-home parent is equal to a salary of about $120,000 per year, but unfortunately you can't report that to the credit card companies.

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