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As a stay-at-home mom, how do I get a major card in my own name?

By , CardRatings contributor
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Question: As a stay-at-home mom, how do I get a major card in my own name in case something happens to my husband? I have paid off student loans and a department store card in my name, co-signed on our mortgage and I am an authorized user on my husband's cards.

Answer: You've already demonstrated that you're capable of handling credit in your own name, but you've also fallen into a kind of limbo created by 2009's Credit CARD Act. To protect consumers, lawmakers adjusted the rules that banks must use when calculating a prospective cardholder's creditworthiness. By setting new lines of credit based on the ability to repay a full balance, legislators aimed to prevent consumers from getting into too much debt.

However, a restrictive interpretation of that rule forced banks to reject applications from stay-at-home spouses with no income of their own. Even though you probably have access to your entire family's funds, you couldn't report that you make enough money to clear a card's balance. If you stated your husband's income as your own, you might have cleared an instant approval credit card application, but your new account could get closed down after a records check.

Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a clarification to the earlier rule that should make it much easier to get a credit card in your own name. Under the CFPB's new guidance, you can report income to which you have "reasonable access." Officials announced the ruling in May 2013, giving banks six months to comply with the change. Therefore, it may be a little while before you see an application form that gives you an appropriate way to explain your family's finances.

Your desire for a credit card in your own name makes sense. If something bad happens to your husband, like a workplace injury or even death, your relative lack of credit in your own name could make it hard to qualify for the best rates on a mortgage or a homeowners' insurance policy. A basic, no-frills account can give you both an emergency safety net and the opportunity to grow your credit history without spending money on fees.

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