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Financially Empowering Stay-at-Home Partners

Crossposted from the Huffington Post

At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, our mission is to empower consumers and strengthen their financial independence. We want to make it easier for people who can afford credit to get it. And if we find that the rules we administer are having the opposite effect, we will act to change those rules.

We recently found, after discussions with credit card issuers and individual consumers, that a significant number of otherwise credit-worthy people may have been denied access to credit cards because they did not have their own income independent of their spouse. We thought this issue was important and deserved further consideration.

Existing regulations require a credit card issuer to evaluate a consumer’s ability to make payments based on his or her independent income or assets before opening a new account. But according to the Census Bureau, over 16 million married people do not work outside the home. That means for approximately one out of three married couples, one spouse could be denied credit under the current rules.

This week, the Bureau announced proposed changes to those rules. Our proposal would add accessible income as a way to allow spouses and partners not working outside the home to qualify for credit and build their own credit histories. With our proposal, a consumer could rely on accessible income from a third party, including his or her partner, when applying for a credit card. Under the proposal, the accessible income must be money that the consumer has a reasonable expectation of being able to use, and it applies to all credit card applicants who are at least 21 years old, whether married or unmarried.

This proposal shows our commitment to independent evaluation and rigorous analysis of the existing regulatory framework. We reviewed feedback from consumers and industry, and based on this information, we established a view on the effects of existing rules on access to credit.

We believe this proposed change strikes the right balance between honoring the letter and purpose of the law without compromising consumer empowerment. We look forward to receiving public comment on our proposal and considering how best to address this issue for millions of Americans.