Saturday, January 14, 2006


Credit problems for older people have abated somewhat following the passage of the 1974 amendments to the Housing and Community Development Acts and the 1975 Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The credit status of women, however, requires particular attention because women are known to experience considerable income loss and difficulties in establishing credit if they become widowed.
These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, age and marital status in consumer and mortgage lending. Lenders cannot deny credit solely on the basis of marital status. If a woman is a good credit risk but is denied credit on the basis of a husband's past credit history, she can request to examine her credit status.
Credit bureaus gather and sell credit information about consumers and are a principal source of information about credit history. To obtain a credit history, make a request to a bureau for a report. The report may include what credit accounts one has, how one pays one's bills, if one has ever filed for bankruptcy or been sued. It is also a good opportunity to update one's credit report if one has credit accounts that were not reported.
When a woman is widowed, divorced, or wants credit in her own name, the credit bureau may report "no file" exists. She may have had a past credit history but in her husband's name. A newly married woman may have the same problem if she changes her name. Old accounts held in her maiden name may not have been transferred, and the credit history is lost. Women who do not have a credit history should start to build a good record at once. If they have credit under a different name or in a different location, they should make sure the local credit bureau has complete and accurate information about them in a file under their current name. Calls should be made to local credit bureaus to see what files they may have.
If a woman shared accounts with her husband or former husband, check with the credit bureau to see if the credit was reported in the wife's name as well as the husband's. If one is married or divorced recently and has changed one's name on accounts, one should ask creditors to enter the name change for accounts. Each creditor should be notified that one wants accounts shared with one's husband reported in both names. Then check in a couple of months to see if the accounts are being reported as requested. When applying for credit, one should list one's best accounts, including accounts shared with one's husband or former husband. If necessary assist the creditor in providing information verifying one's credit references. If one can show a credit history of one's own, even though it was in one's husband's or former husband's name, the creditor must consider it. If a previous credit history was unfavorable but did not reflect one's credit worthiness, clarify this with the creditor.
If one is married and wants to establish a credit history, one must write one's creditors and request it. Creditors are obligated to provide the history in both names when accounts are shared.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act gives one the right to know the specific reasons for denial of a credit application. If the denial was based on a credit report, one is entitled to know the specific information in the credit report that led to the denial. After one has received this information from the creditor, one should contact the credit bureau to find out what information was reported. The bureau cannot charge for disclosure if one asks to see one's file within 30 days of being notified of a denial based on a credit report. One can request that the bureau investigate any inaccurate or incomplete information and correct its record.
In a community property state, a creditor may consider one's husband's credit history even if one is applying for one's own account. One still needs to make certain that one's credit bureau has a separate credit file in one's name.
Loewinsohn, R. J. Survival Handbook for Widows. Washington, D.C.: AARP, 1986.


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