Listen: 10260108

MPR’s Debbie Gage conducts an interview about a provision to treat women fairly in terms of getting financial credit.

Women's rights, credit rating, and discrimination are also discussed.


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SPEAKER 1: No, actually they're intended to apply to anyone who in the past has experienced discrimination on the basis of credit because of sex. Obviously, of course, women have been the people who have suffered most in when they seek credit. But it's possible that the other sex might suffer, too.

Women who are seeking credit will be treated fairly under the new provisions. If the people who are dealing with her know and abide by the law, and we certainly hope they will, women and men under the new provisions must be treated fairly on the basis of their ability to meet the established criteria and not with regard to sex, which has happened in the past. And marital status, too, has affected an individual's right to or opportunity rather to obtain credit.

SPEAKER 2: On what basis have women been denied credit in the past.

SPEAKER 1: Well, I can tell you what was said to me a year ago when I was interviewing some major credit grantors and officials of the credit bureaus. When I asked a similar question, it appears that people who grant credit, and large majority of these are males, assume that a woman's participation in the labor force is a temporary thing that exists only prior to her having a family. So they consider all women to be temporary wage earners contrary to the statistics of the Department of Labor of the United States government, which indicate that over 40% of the labor force consists of women who work on the average of about 25 years, whether or not they are married and whether or not they have children.

So at that time, I expressed the thought that men, particularly those engaged in the credit-granting business needed to be brought into the 20th century. One of the things that was said to me that was particularly amazing is the adjective I'll use is that if a woman was in her childbearing years and particularly if she was a younger and attractive, her chances for getting credit were reduced correspondingly. I can see by the look on your face that you react as I did to that.

At the time, I said, have they ever heard about the pill or about family planning? Some actually, I suppose, they have because many women when applying for mortgages with their husbands have been asked to sign a statement saying that they are-- describing the types of contraceptives that are being used and that they do not intend to have children. Can you imagine anything more demeaning?

SPEAKER 2: Take the case of a woman who is in the middle of a long unresolved divorce case. How might her unstable marital status affect her application for credit?

SPEAKER 1: Well, now fortunately if she deserves credit and can demonstrate her financial ability to meet her obligations, her marital status under Chapter 363 should not affect her credit ability or her ability to obtain credit. But what's happened in the past, and I assume that it's going to take some time for all of the people who are in the position of granting credit to become familiar with the new provisions and to accept them because there may be some built-in resistance to people who have operated under another set of beliefs for a long, long time. In other words, we're bucking up against tradition, the same old stereotypes.

But what has happened in the past, and I was told this by both major credit bureaus, is that no matter how long a woman had been married and how much involved she was in the handling the financial obligations of her family and how good that credit rating was probably due to her efforts-- she could have been the one even who earned the money. She could have been the one who made the purchases. She could have been the one who paid the bills every month.

If she were divorced, this good credit rating that she had worked so hard to establish over many, many years would go with the husband. She would be a non-person as far as credit was concerned. None of this long history would apply if she were being divorced but she would just be as if she were just like born yesterday with no past history. Now the sad part, if you think that's bad, listen to this, if the family had had a bad credit rating, this would follow her to her new file.

SPEAKER 2: Would it follow the husband also?

SPEAKER 1: Supposedly, although I do know of a case where the husband went bankrupt, the wife undertook the-- she had a job. She had more income than he did. She had a good job, a professional job.

He had a business, which failed. She undertook the responsibility of paying off the debts, which is something people don't understand, too. A wife is responsible for her husband's bad debts just as a husband is responsible for his wife's bad debts, but you never hear anybody talk about that. But that is the law in Minnesota.

But what happened in this particular case was that the husband went through bankruptcy and was able to open up another business with the slate wiped clean while her record remained with all these blemishes because she had undertaken to repay the debts. So there's been a horrendous number of inequities, which hopefully will not occur under the new law.

SPEAKER 2: What should a woman do if she feels she's been unfairly denied credit?

SPEAKER 1: Well, there are many things that first being affiliated with the Department of Human rights, I believe that the first thing she should do would be to contact our department with a accurate description of what has happened and file a charge of discrimination.


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