Seattle Stories

Seattle Stories: Credit Where Credit’s Due

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In 1973, I took a job making credit cards for Pay’nSave in downtown Seattle. Those hand-typed cards were loudly embossed on a beast of a typing machine. Once I’d made a big stack of them, I’d push each card into a ‘tipping machine’ to gild the letters. I often ended the day with aching golden fingernails.

After a few months of work, I was awarded an in-store credit card with a $50 limit, as a reward for being a good worker. Humble as it was, it was my very first credit card. But I thought it might also be my last. Even though I made credit cards for others, no major credit card company would make one for a nineteen-year-old single female like me.

I wanted to have a major credit card in case of an emergency. I filled out lots of credit applications. I spent 8 cents on postage to mail each one. And then I waited.

BankAmericacard sent a letter stating that a male must accompany me to the bank to co-sign for my card. My father lived a thousand miles away. My brother was only sixteen years old. I had no other men in my life, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have asked. I wasn’t willing to burden anyone else with my finances. I was appalled by the notion of being financially bound to a man. And, I was saddened that, as a single woman, I couldn’t be trusted.

American Express sent me an encouraging offer… that is, until I read the fine print. Their $96.00 per year ‘membership fee’ was a lot of money for a girl making only $1.35 an hour. And having to pay off the balance at the end of each month meant it wouldn’t work very well as an ‘emergency’ card. Ironically, the only company willing to consider me had just made me an offer I couldn’t accept.

Mastercard didn’t even bother to respond.

Then, in the spring of 1974, a miracle happened. A BankAmericacard arrived in the mail, embossed with my name! The letters were gold tipped, just like on the cards I made. ‘This must be a mistake’, I thought. ‘I can’t use this. Once they realize they’ve sent a credit card to a woman without a male co-signer, they’ll cancel it.’

Then, I read the accompanying letter, printed on Pay’nSave letterhead. They’d turned their customer credit management over to Bank of America. All holders of Pay’nSave cards in good standing were being issued a BankAmericacard – the predecessor to Visa cards. Even more astonishing, my new card had a $500 credit limit.

When I called a friend to share the good news, she said she’d gotten one too. So to celebrate, we went to Latitude 47 for “Tips ‘n Tails”, steak and lobster. That $15.00 dinner was the first charge I’d ever made outside of a Pay’nSave drugstore.

On October 28, 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act went into effect. It read, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age.”

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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