40 years of credit cards

10-Ways-to-Use-Credit-Cards-Wisely-mdnDid you know that 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act here in the US? Yep, before 1974 women weren’t allowed to have a credit card, take out a loan or a mortgage in their names. Prior to this, you needed a dudes name attached to yours in order to have the fantastic plastic.

Wild huh?

Especially when you consider that would mean for about 51 million women you’d need your Daddy or husband to cosign on your AMEX.

I’d love to hear that conversation.

What makes this piece of history so unbelievable is that when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president in the Democratic primaries in 1972, she couldn’t get a credit card, have bought a house or even got a loan for a car in her own name. Frankly its amazing they didn’t make her husband cosign on her presidential application.

As far back as 1862, women could own property (cash only) and remove money from their own bank account without male oversight, and even got the ability to vote in 1920.

But why weren’t women given the right to own a credit card in their own name?

Presumably the impact of monthly hormonal surges, an all consuming passion for shoes and purses and the ability to actually act on this madness was just too much for Americas banks and credit card companies to comprehend. I mean, first the vote, then they want to spend the money they earn??? Without male oversight? Where will it end???

(answer: total parity)

Which brings me to today. While I’d never wish a return to those days, I do wish that back in 1974 someone had thought ‘Hmmm.. better edu-micate those ladies about finance’ along with the all that legalize.

I for one never learned much about money growing up, despite having a job since the age of 13. If I had cash in my purse, I spent it. If I didn’t, I didn’t. It wasn’t hard to stay in the black – my parents gave us pocket money of 1 pound until we were 13, at which point it was all on us to earn and spend as we saw fit. No loans, no credit in our house. Credit cards were for big things – vacations, new vehicle parts…. certainly my parents wouldn’t dream of putting gas on their cards (as I often do).

And I know I’m not alone. Men and women everywhere use credit cards as a ‘cushion’ against the discomfort of not actually being able to afford to buy something in a given month. And the repeating the experience again and again until ‘holy shit look at that bill’ Debt is not an exclusively feminine predilection.

However women tend to have more debt than men throughout their lives, beginning in early adulthood. Studies show gender income inequality coming into play in the first year after graduating from college (women earn on average, only 82% of when men earn across all careers). With lower earnings and less earning potential, women don’t have the financial resources to pay off loans like their male counterparts. This can cause them to take on more of other types of debt as well, especially credit card debt. Less than 50% of women even have an emergency fund, where as 60% of men say their emergency stash is larger than their debt. 50% of all insolvencies (bankruptcies to you and me) are women, and by the time women hit their mid- to late 60s, 11 percent are living in poverty, compared with just 6 percent of men.

Its not that women make worse decisions than men when it comes to money and debt, but we do have bigger problems accumulating and then getting out of debt.

So I’m not so sure that I’m celebrating my ability to get a credit card without my dad or husband co signing for it. Its enabled me to buy things I didn’t need, on a whim, because I didn’t feel it at the time, all while enabling me to dig myself a marianas trench of debt that has taken me years to get out of.

Nope, I think I’d rather be celebrating equal pay with my male counterparts.

Maybe in another 40 years.

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