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Women gaining equal credit status, but they must exercise it

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The credit business is reporting important gains on the sexual-equality front. That's the good news. The bad news is that a lot of women aren't doing all they can to take advantage of those gains.

For the most part, discrimination in the granting of credit seems to be a thing of the past. Although the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, for instance, reports ``occasional complaints'' in this area, the problem does not seem as widespread or blatant as it once was, a spokeswoman says.

After several years of publicity and new laws, banks, department stores, and other businesses that issue credit seem to know the rules of the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1975: Single women cannot lose their credit standing or history when they marry; alimony, maintenance, and child support must be given the same consideration as any other income; women cannot be asked about their plans regarding childbearing or child-rearing; and mortgage grantors must consider a wife's income, whether it's full or part time, when making a decision about a loan.

Also, credit records of married couples built up since the middle of 1977 are supposed to recognize the ``participation'' of the wife as well as the husband, even if she had no salary and didn't sign the checks for the bills. This way, both the husband and wife build up their own, separate credit histories.

The fairly widespread application of these rules means that credit discrimination ``is not the problem it was in the past,'' says Millicent DeMariano, director of the national credit women's group at the National Association of Credit Management. ``Everyone's been pretty well educated over the last five or 10 years.''

So if credit discrimination is becoming less of an issue, what's the problem?

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