New rule helps stay-at-home spouses

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It’s now easier for stay-at-home spouses and partners to get credit cards, thanks to a new federal ruling.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Monday that credit card issuers can consider income and assets that a nonworking individual shares with a spouse or partner when granting a credit card or credit limit increase. The new rule applies to applicants 21 years of age or older.

The new rule updates a Federal Reserve reading of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. The central bank stated that credit card companies must base an applicant’s ability to pay their credit card debt on individual income rather than household income.

The rule was designed to keep college students from qualifying for a credit card using their parents’ income and racking up unnecessary debt before graduation. However, the regulation also made it difficult for stay-at-home spouses to get a credit card without their partner’s permission.

The federal watchdog agency noted that more than 16 million married people don’t work outside the home, or 1 out of every 3 married couples.

“The way the CARD Act was written completely ignored the fact that nonworking spouses have access to the household income,” says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at “This ruling makes it easier for nonworking spouses to function financially on behalf of the household.”

The CFPB took up the issue last year after Holly McCall, a stay-at-home mom from Virginia, started an online petition against the original ruling. McCall was turned down for a store credit card because she didn’t have individual income.

The agency proposed the change in October and received more than 300 comments in the issue from individuals, consumer groups, retailers, trade groups and financial institutions. The final rule takes effect as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register. Credit card issuers have six months to comply.

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