Let's give some credit to stay-at-home parents

Array of credit cards

If you don't earn an income, you can't qualify for a credit card.

This makes sense if you are out of work and lack the ability to repay your debts.

But what about people who are intentionally out of the workforce — stay-at-home parents, spouses and partners?

If you're in this group, you're probably attached to someone who works outside the home and have access to the household income that creates. It's a safe bet you use that household income to pay your bills, too.

Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed letting stay-at-home spouses or partners — about 16 million Americans — use shared household income to apply for credit in their own name.

Doing so requires scrapping a rule in the 2009 Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, the legislation that brought us card statements written in (mostly) English, as well as those nifty little boxes telling you how much you'll hand over in total if you make just the minimum payments on your accounts.

Right now, card issuers consider just the applicant's income — not the household income to which he has access — when deciding whether or not to issue that person a card. Of course, issuers also consider the applicant's credit rating, but a perfect rating does the applicant no good unless he has an independent income from wages or investments.

That's left spouses and partners who don't have paying jobs with three choices: Use the other spouse or partner's account, use a secured card (these typically have very low limits) or go without a card.

I think it's only fair we open credit to this rather large group of Americans, based, of course, on creditworthiness.

Why? These people earn a living, even if there's nothing on the bottom line to show for it.

Stay-at-home spouses almost always work inside the home, unless their health or age prevents it. Very often, that work involves rearing children. All that nose-wiping, scrape-bandaging and meal-planning adds up.

According to Salary.com, if a stay-at-home parent were paid for the work she does, she'd earn $112,962 in 2012.

That figure, according to the website, is based on a 95-hour workweek.

If that seems a bit inflated, other analyses put the number closer to $60,000.

That equals some fairly paltry hourly pay.

Of course, these estimates don't count the wages a parent loses by being outside the workforce while children are small, nor do they include the overall career and income hit primary caregivers take when they leave the workforce and return many years later.

Still other spouses and partners who don't work for pay are busy caring for elderly relatives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011 saw 39.8 million people over the age of 15 providing unpaid care for someone over age 65 "because of a condition related to aging." A third of them took care of two or more elderly people. A quarter of them were also caring for a minor child.

Granted, the numbers include the grandchild who stops by to fix a healthy grandparent's VCR and the adult child who goes shopping with his equally healthy mother. But it also counts people who are feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting and supervising elderly people who are no longer able to manage the daily routines of life for themselves.

How much is that worth? I don't know. What would you pay someone to keep your mother from aimlessly riding the subway in her pajamas while also feeding your toddler, planning your vacation and filing your taxes?

Whatever the right number is, it's pretty high. I think it's only respectful that these people be allowed to get cards in their own names.

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