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It used to be that the only income you could put down on a credit card application was your own — the money you earned independently. That rule often made it impossible for spouses who didn't work outside the home or those who worked part time to get their own credit card accounts.
But things have changed. As long as you're 21 or older, you can include your household income, including income from your spouse or partner, on your credit card application.
Household income and credit card applications
The Credit Card Act of 2009 requires credit card companies to take "the ability of the consumer to make the required payments" into account when deciding whether to approve an application.
A 2013 amendment to the federal regulations surrounding the Card Act expanded the definition of one's ability to pay so that people 21 and older can include any income to which they have a "reasonable expectation of access." This can include income from a spouse, partner or other member of your household. It can also include nonwage income such as savings, trust fund distributions, unemployment compensation and others.
However, people under 21 must still be able to show that they have independent income to qualify for a credit card. If they don't have independent income, they must have a co-signer.
Choosing a credit card that suits your household
Income alone isn’t enough to get you approved for a credit card. Issuers will also look at your credit report, credit score and existing debts.
Different types of cards will be a better or worse fit for your household depending on your circumstances. Consider the following:
Low-interest credit cards: Ideally, you should pay off your balance in full every month to avoid interest. When that's not possible, a low-interest credit card can save you money.
Balance transfer credit cards: These cards can save you serious money if you're carrying high-interest credit card debt. They offer a year or more at a 0% annual percentage rate, so you can pay down your debt without having to pay any interest.
Secured credit cards: These are valuable tools for people with bad credit or no credit history. They require a security deposit, usually equal to your credit limit. You get that money back when you close the account or upgrade to a regular credit card.
The law is on your side
The 2013 amendment means that it doesn’t matter if you’re preparing, serving and eating the bacon instead of bringing it home. The law now says that your spouse's income is as good as your own independent income when it comes to applying for a credit card.