Why every woman needs a credit history

Most women of my generation (Gen-X) and younger have at least a minimal credit history. Credit card companies love to extend credit to university and college students of both genders (start 'em young!).

You might be surprised, but I actually think this is a good thing. With a relatively small credit limit, students can learn the ropes of how to manage a revolving credit line, and prove to the banks that they are responsible with their money. (Yes, I know some don't learn the lesson and go overboard on spending - that's a topic for another day).

Unfortunately, there are still a sizeable number of older women (Boomers, for example), whose credit history is entirely intertwined with their male spouse. As recently as the 1970s, many banks would refuse to issue a credit card to a woman without her husband's signature.

Believe it or not, when I got married in 1996, and wanted to open a joint account with my husband, at first they only ran a credit check on him, and when they discovered that he'd never had a credit card of his own (he had a subsidiary card on his father's account), they tried to tell us we couldn't open the account! It was only when I suggested they run my name through their system, and found that I had excellent credit dating back over ten years, that they agreed to let us bank with them. 

The sexism in the financial services industry is legendary. Isn't it interesting that it never occurred to them that I might have a financial track record, or that it might be relevant to the situation?

My experience highlights why I believe it's absolutely critical for every woman to have held credit in her own name, and to establish a good, solid history of responsible credit management - borrowing and paying back what you borrow in a timely manner.

It might not be an issue for you right now, if your husband/partner is healthy, your marriage/relationship is healthy, and your household financial situation is healthy. But things can change, literally overnight. As awful as it is to contemplate, consider the following scenarios:

Your partner could die.

They could come home and announce that they want a divorce.

Or, you could decide you want or need to get out of the relationship. The last thing you need is to be held captive in an unhealthy relationship, simply because your lack of an independent financial track record means you can't get established on your own.

You might be surprised at the number of things that become far more difficult if you've never held credit in your own name. It doesn't only affect your ability to borrow money. Here are a few more examples of things you may have trouble with if you have no credit history:

  • Getting a cell phone plan (even if you already have a phone!)
  • Renting an apartment
  • Getting a job (especially true in the USA)
  • Renting a car

Aside from the above, having your own credit history gives you a sense of control over your life, and a feeling of pride as you take responsibility for your financial affairs. 

So, today I'd like to encourage you, if all your accounts right now are joint with your partner, to seek out credit of your very own. It doesn't have to be a lot - a VISA or MasterCard with a small credit limit is fine to get started. You can apply online, and most banks will have an answer for you within a day or two.

Depending on your situation, you may have to start with a prepaid credit card; this will still help you establish a credit history, so don't despair or feel ashamed if this is where you have to start. It's a start!

Have you had any bad experiences as a result of not having held credit? Or do you know of someone who has? Please share with us in the comments below.


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