Q&A With Holly McCall, Champion of the Stay-at-Home Parent

Credit card with dollars

It took getting turned down for a Target credit card that prompted stay-at-home mom Holly McCall to take on the Credit CARD Act of 2009 and the new federal financial watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

On May 17, 2012, McCall and representatives of MomsRising.org, an advocacy group that brings the voices and real world experiences of women and mothers to the nation's leaders, met with CFPB Director Richard Cordray to talk about changing a portion of the CARD Act that prevents stay-at-home parents from qualifying for a credit card.

McCall's mission: To address stay-at-home parents' concerns about their access to credit and a law that she says essentially limits access to credit cards for stay-at-home parents. The meeting came on the heels of McCall's delivery of a petition with more 45,000 signatures to the CFPB. The petition asked the bureau to reconsider what McCall has dubbed a "Mad Men" era policy that prevented her from claiming household income in order to apply for a credit card.

Here's a look at the path that led McCall to take up this fight and what she hopes to accomplish once the dust settles.

CreditCards.com: What prompted you to create the online petition?

Holly McCall: I was declined for a Target credit card last fall for not having enough income. I received a letter stating I was declined that also provided me my credit score at the time. It was over 800, which is near the top of the range and considered "excellent." I learned that the CARD Act rules had recently been implemented prohibiting the company from asking for my household income. Being a stay-at-home mom at the time, I had to state that my own income was zero; my husband is the wage earner, but we share his income equally in our household. We make all major financial decisions together, and I make the vast majority of our day-to-day financial decisions and transactions.

I knew I wasn't alone in this situation and was surprised at how little awareness the public had about this change and its implications.  I reached out to MomsRising -- an organization working on critical issues facing women, mothers and families -- and we launched a campaign in December 2011 and collected more than 12,000 signatures of support.  Recently, I started a petition on Change.org and in just a few weeks, we collected an additional 34,000 signatures.

CreditCards.com: How did being denied make you feel, especially since stay-at-home parents 'work' full-time 24/7?

McCall: It felt demeaning. I felt as though my work as a full-time parent was not worth anything financially. I had a flashback to half a century ago where women did not have the financial independence from their spouses that we have today.

Given that I am the one from our household who makes the day-to-day financial decisions and transactions, it seems unfair that I am not allowed to speak on behalf of our household when it comes to credit card applications.

It can be costly, too, because there are benefits to being able to apply in-store, such as discounts that my family cannot take advantage of because I cannot obtain credit on our behalf.

CreditCards.com: Did you expect that so many would join the fight and support you in this effort by signing the petition?

McCall: I knew there was a lack of awareness, so I'm thrilled that so many people have become aware of this issue and added their voice to mine by signing the petition.

CreditCards.com: Why do you think the CARD Act rule is to blame for the denial?

Holly McCall: When the CARD Act was passed, it had provisions to protect young adults and students from being able to use their parents' income to be approved for a credit card. The law, known as Regulation Z and the "Ability to Pay" section specifies that credit card companies may only consider individual income versus household income.

CreditCards.com: How do you justify a card issuer qualifying someone as an individual credit card user (as opposed to a joint account holder) when he/she has no income?

McCall: I like to think there is a portion of our household's income that would be dedicated to full-time child care if I were not a stay-at-home parent. In the most conservative interpretation, that is my income.

It would be ridiculous for my husband to "pay me" that income, and for us to pay tax twice on it, but that is implied in the fact that we have chosen for me to be home with my children. Credit card issuers have long been comfortable using household income to make their credit decisions. This shift is driven by the CARD Act and not by decisions of credit card issuers. Should a card issuer determine that individual income is the best way to evaluate credit worthiness, I think this would be a different issue and they would be at risk of incurring discrimination accusations because so many married applicants with no individual income would be women.

CreditCards.com: Playing devil's advocate, why should a lender give credit to someone who, if he/she becomes divorced, widowed or disabled, for example, and there is no (or reduced) household income to pay off the credit card?

McCall: A lender should never give credit to an individual who is a poor credit risk or who does not have the means to repay their debts. At a time when the household has sufficient income to support the additional debt and is otherwise a good credit risk, the companies should be able to use that information.

Using individual income only does not help a credit card company assess creditworthiness for married individuals. I'm not asking for blanket additional credit to be issued, just for all Americans to have their creditworthiness assessed fairly.

CreditCards.com: If you were a credit card issuer, how would you like stay-at-home parents' credit evaluated?

McCall: I am not a credit card issuer, so my knowledge is limited about the rules that must be followed. However, I believe that when assessing an individual who is married, it should be permissible to evaluate the combined income of the couple, along with other pertinent credit bureau information to assess that individual's creditworthiness and, specifically, their ability to repay the loan.

CreditCards.com: What was the outcome of your meeting with CFPB Director Richard Cordray?

McCall: I am really pleased that Mr. Cordray agreed to meet with me to address unfair access to credit for stay-at-home parents. It's clear the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau listened to the 45,000 voices asking to change this rule, which unfairly penalizes hard-working moms and dads. I look forward to working with Director Cordray to fix this glaring issue.

I will work closely with MomsRising and the CFPB over the next 30 days to advocate for a resolution that allows stay-at-home parents access to credit.