Women gained the right to vote more than 100 years ago. But some social media posts claim that financial freedom is a more recent development.
“Banks were allowed to discriminate until 1974, often not allowing single women or women without their husband’s signature to open credit cards,” one person wrote in a February 2023 tweet with more than 50,000 views.
Could banks deny credit cards to women who didn’t have male cosigners before 1974?
Yes, banks could deny credit cards to women who didn’t have male cosigners before 1974.
WHAT WE FOUND
Before 1974, banks often required women to have a male cosigner in order to get credit such as mortgage loans or credit cards on their own, financial experts told VERIFY.
That changed with the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which barred creditors from discriminating against any applicant “on the basis of sex or marital status.”
Before Congress passed the ECOA in 1974, “discrimination against women applying for credit was common,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says.
Many lenders required married women to have their spouse’s signature on credit applications, according to the agency. Banks could also deny credit to single women before the ECOA was passed.
“Before that time, it was a lot harder for a woman who was unmarried to get credit on her own,” Sara Rathner, credit cards expert at NerdWallet, told VERIFY. “She often needed a male cosigner, and that was true whether the woman had never been married before, or if she was divorced or widowed.”
Ted Rossman, credit card senior industry analyst at Bankrate, agrees. He said that, before the ECOA was passed, financial institutions “could and often would decline female applicants” unless they had a male cosigner.
These discriminatory practices continuing into the 1970s are “illustrative of the way that reform takes a long time,” Veta Schlimgen, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Gonzaga University, said.
“This is one illustration of the ways in which women don’t have the same economic opportunities as men in the United States because of the assumption that they don’t manage money well – or that if they are in a relationship, if they’re married that they defer to the man…in their household for making economic decisions,” she said.
Schlimgen said there are “wide-ranging consequences” for women who cannot obtain economic independence. They may think they need to get married in order to have financial security, or they might be less likely to leave a household or marriage.
Since the implementation of the ECOA in 1974, lenders cannot require a spouse’s signature on a credit card application, the CFPB told VERIFY.