Women’s History Month Prompts Claims About Equal Access to Credit

A customer checks out at Walmart in Rosemead, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

With Women’s History Month in full swing, many social media users have celebrated the anniversary of women gaining equal access to credit. Such posts have popped up on sites like Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Threads, and Reddit.

This claim is true. Women often were prevented from obtaining credit cards independent of male co-signers prior to 1974.

Though different forms of credit have existed for thousands of years, the Diners Club Card—created in 1950—is generally considered to be the first modern charge card. By the end of the decade, BankAmericard—which later became Visa—launched the first consumer credit card, and American Express created its first charge card specifically for travelers. At the time, however, creditors often discriminated against female applicants by requiring them to have a male co-signer on credit applications regardless of their individual income or ability to repay, significantly restricting both single and married women from obtaining credit independently.

To address this discrimination, on October 28, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which made it illegal for any creditor to discriminate against a credit applicant on the basis of sex or marital status. In 1976 the act was amended to further include race, color, religion, national origin, age, and receipt of public benefits as protected statuses. Today, because of the ECOA, creditors cannot require spouses to co-sign on credit applications, and women can no longer be prevented from accessing financial products because of their gender or marital status. 

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