Category Archives: Money Management

Separate Finances in Marriage vs Married Filing Separately on Your Taxes

Two women sitting with their backs to the camera working on something on the computer.

The other day I came across this situation. It went something like this:

A woman was a single mother and filed head of household on her taxes for years.

She got married, and while they had a joint bank account for some shared expenses, most of their finances were separate from each other.

She had information which made her believe she must file taxes as married filing separately because they kept some of their bank accounts separate, and that therefore there was a marriage penalty as the amount of tax they collectively owed went up when filing Married Filing Separately compared to if they were filing jointly.

It’s an interesting misunderstanding, and one that I’m sure must come up commonly with people who are deciding whether to merge or separate their finances in marriage. In The Feminist Financial Handbook, we talked about the importance of keeping at least some money separate, so I do want to address it.

Separate Finances vs Married Filing Separately

When you get married, you might decide to open all your bank accounts with both of your names on them. This strategy is ‘completely’ joint. It’s traditional, but I’m not a fan. With divorce rates hovering around 50% since the 1980s, it just seems ill-advised. We insure against things that are far less common than divorce. Some people love this method, though.

The other extreme is keeping all of your bank accounts, loans, etc. separate from each other. The other person doesn’t have permission to make withdrawals from deposit accounts, and their credit score isn’t impacted if you miss a payment on a loan that’s in your name only.

The final strategy is a mix of the two, with maybe a joint account for shared expenses, but each partner still maintains at least one separate account in their name only. This is probably the most realistic approach, and still provides you with a little self-insurance.

My colleague Choncé Maddox recently wrote an excellent piece breaking down different opinions on each strategy for Good Housekeeping.

Here’s the important part: Whether you have joint or separate banking practices within your marriage has no bearing on whether or not you file Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately.

Married filing jointly is almost always better than married filing separately

There are advantages to filing your taxes under the Married Filing Jointly status rather than the Married Filing Separately status. Just because the standard deduction for Married Filing Separately is 50% of the standard deduction for Married Filing Jointly does not mean that all other numbers are split down the middle.

Here are some of the line items that negatively impact you if you choose to file Married Filing Separately:

  • Actual tax. Even before you start accounting for any specific tax credits, the actual amount of tax you’ll owe is often higher when you file Married Filing Separately. That means even if your taxable income is the same, you’re extremely likely to pay more than if you filed Married Filing Jointly. The difference is particularly pronounced when there’s a wide income split between both spouses. The degree of impact is much less if you both earn about the same amount of money, but it’s still usually cheaper to file Married Filing Jointly.
  • Child tax credits. When you file Married Filing Separately, only one of the parents can claim the children as dependents. This can significantly impact the Child Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit in a bad way, as you won’t be able to claim the full credit without both spouses on the same return.
  • Other tax credits. When you file Married Filing Separately, there’s an array of credits that are just plain off limits in most situations. They include the EIC, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the American Opportunity for Lifetime Learning credit. This is not an exhaustive list, and your individual financial situation may or may not make you ineligible. But in most cases, ineligibility is the default.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but you can see pretty quickly how Married Filing Separately comes with some big negatives.

When would I file separately?

For most people, Married Filing Jointly is the smarter financial decision. However, there are a few scenarios where Married Filing Separately can help you. They’re few and far between, but they do exist. They include:

  • Liability concerns. Whether or not you’re going through a divorce, if your spouse is doing something shady with their finances you may choose to file separately. It doesn’t necessarily remove all your liability depending on what’s going on, but it does provide at least some minor protection on the tax side of things.
  • You have federal student loans. If you’re on an income-based or income-contingent repayment plan for your federal student loans, filing separately discludes your spouse’s income from your repayment calculations. You may still end up paying more in taxes, but you may decide it’s worth it for the lower student loan payments depending on your numbers.
  • Significant medical expenses. If either you or your spouse have significant medical expenses, filing separately may make sense. That’s because you can deduct medical expenses if they’re  more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). We’re talking massive medical expenses here — the itemized deduction would have to be more than the standard deduction for this strategy to make sense.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but does cover some of the most common situations.

Are marriage penalties real?

Oh, absolutely. They’re just not real in this particular way.

You’re more likely to face a marriage penalty if you’re low-income. Households that are better off typically incur tax benefits after marriage, but it doesn’t work that way if you bring in less money.

‘Marriage penalties’ do not refer to the choice to file Jointly or Separately when you’re married. Instead, they refer to the penalty low-income or single-parent households face when they do get married versus filing as an unmarried head-of-household. It’s the act of marriage itself that inflicts the penalty — not the elective choice of filing status within the marriage.

How do I get help filing my taxes?

If you came in with any of these same preconceived notions, you’re going to want to sit down with a tax professional this tax season. You don’t want misconceptions to lead you to a higher tax bill (or an audit.) Plus, a tax professional can help you figure out if you truly are one of the exceptions that would merit a Married Filing Separately status.

There are ways to file your taxes for free using programs like VITA or Free File. (Most American households qualify for Free File.)

If you don’t qualify for those programs, be sure to sit down with someone with letters after their name like EA or CPA. That guy at H&R Block that wants you to pay him to file your taxes likely doesn’t have these letters after his name. He could just be a seasonal worker that received some seasonal training to handle the most common tax returns — but works at the local Walmart the rest of the year. He might not have the expertise to get the nuances of your individual situation 100% right.

 

Where Are They Now? Nour Naas of The Feminist Financial Handbook

Last Fall, I was talking to Nicole Lynn (Perry) Ó Catháin. You may remember Nicole from The Feminist Financial Handbook. So many readers became invested in these women’s stories, and Nicole had the phenomenal idea to do a series catching up with them and what their lives look like five years later. This is that series.

If you’d like to support this series, please make a donation to the Lavender Rights Project.

If you haven’t read The Feminist Financial Handbook yet, buy it here so you can get these women’s backstories!

This week we’re talking to Nour Naas, who discussed domestic violence and money in the book.

Background of pink to yellow gradiant. Image of the cover of The Feminist Financial Handbook. text reads 'where are they now? Nour Naas on IPV & Money Management While Practicing Islam'

Nour! I am so happy to have this opportunity to sit down with you again. The last time we talked, you were in California, still in school.

I’ve been following you on Instagram and I’ve caught glimpses all your moving journeys in the time since. Where have your journeys since 2018 brought you today?

Definitely! When we last spoke, I was just finishing up community college. I graduated in December and applied for university to attend in Fall 2019. So I had a huge gap of time where I wasn’t going to be in school — from December 2018 to August 2019.

In that time, I ended up going to Libya for six months to visit my extended family. The trip was pretty crazy. Unfortunately since the Libyan revolution in 2011, Libya has been incredibly unstable, and another civil war broke out while I was there, in April 2019.

But I’m really grateful that I got to go. It was my first time going back since my mother was killed, so that added a lot of emotions to my trip. And though I don’t believe in closure, I feel like going to Libya brought me as close to the concept of it as I probably could ever get over my mother’s death.

After I came back from Libya, I attended CSU East Bay and completed my sociology degree. I graduated in December 2020. Shortly thereafter, I worked for the county as a health insurance eligibility worker.

I just left my job and California altogether in July/August 2022 since I ended up getting married. I can’t express how much growth has happened within me since we spoke in 2018. I wasn’t even interested in marriage at that time, and couldn’t see myself ever pursuing it. I still had so much fear and trauma around marriage since I grew up witnessing my mother suffer in her own.

I’m just really grateful for opening up my heart to marriage despite how I’ve felt about it for most of my life.

Congratulations! While I am deeply saddened to hear of the ongoing strife in Libya, those are all monumental developments in your personal life.

I know I’ve personally heard from readers who have felt seen and not alone for the first time after reading your story. You’ve done so much work in this space that I’m sure you must hear that all the time.

Thank you so much. Hearing from readers about how my story resonates with them is truly the best part of sharing my writing. And I almost feel disappointment in myself for saying this, but in the last year or so especially, I feel like my goals and pursuits have completely shifted when it comes to domestic violence work.

When we last spoke, I was volunteering and/or working at multiple shelters, doing community outreach, etc. But recently, I feel my heart isn’t in it anymore.

That’s not to say that domestic violence work isn’t important to me, but more to say that I don’t know if I have the capacity to engage in it like I once did.

I actually recently applied for a position at a domestic violence shelter, kind of on a whim, and they immediately got back to me to set up an interview. But close to the interview, I just decided to cancel. I’m still trying to figure out what’s changed in me that makes me not want to do the work I used to often do.

I’m also trying to figure out in what capacity I would feel comfortable engaging in domestic violence work. But for now, I wouldn’t say I’m doing any of the work, except through maybe writing about it. Still in the process of finding out what I can handle at this point.

That’s more than fair. You’ve been through a lot, and while it’s great to help others directly, it shouldn’t be all on you to ‘fix’ this monumental issue. I hope that feeling of disappointment won’t follow you for too much longer, and that you’re able to pursue all the diverse goals and achievements you set for yourself in other fields.

Given this information, I hope my next questions aren’t too intrusive. Cut me off if they are.

Over the past five years, have there been any positive or negative developments in how safe it is for women to come forward? Particularly for Muslim women since they face the most barriers?

I’m not sure about specific developments that have occurred, but I will say that ever since 2018, when I first got my essay published about the intersection of domestic violence and Islamophobia, I’ve seen increased discourse around this very same topic, and that’s been really encouraging.

I believe there is a lot more of an awareness around domestic violence in general, how it doesn’t just manifest physically, how it can be more difficult to identify it.

I remember one of my friends who divorced her husband years ago. We met up at a cafe shortly after their separation, and she gave me a laundry list of all the things he did in their marriage, but she prefaced the whole thing by saying that he never abused her.

But toward the end of our conversation, it seemed that she had her own a-ha moment and said, “Wow. It was abuse.”

And it made me realize that many people don’t understand that abuse can actually be very stealthy and difficult to see, even — and perhaps especially — to the one who is being abused.

That’s too real! Often we don’t realize how unhealthy things are until we open up about our private experiences.

Once we do realize it, one of the most common questions asked on this topic is where do I get financial help to leave a bad situation? From what I can see, there aren’t a whole lot of resources out there. Do you have any recommendations for where people could look?

Unfortunately I’m not quite sure either. The only thing I can think of is to actually contact local domestic violence shelters and see what kind of support they can offer.

It’s sad that there aren’t nearly enough safety nets in place for victims of domestic violence to be able to leave their abusers. I find that most people must depend on community support — whether that’s through fundraising for the victim or giving them a place to stay.

I would really urge everyone reading this to support domestic violence victims in whatever way you can.

Even if it’s not financially, maybe you can provide them with information on local resources, or maybe you have enough space, money, and energy to take in a friend who is being abused, maybe you’re well-versed on the topic of financial literacy and you can conduct workshops in your community or local domestic violence shelters to teach others about it, etc.

Cash is extremely important in order to be able to leave an abusive situation, but if it’s something that cannot be offered, not all hope is lost.

My mother was actually supposed to move in with one of her friends at the end of the month in which she was murdered. This friend of hers isn’t rich, but she had space, and my mom had some income to help carry her weight.

I think, more important than money being offered to victims, is them having other forms of concrete support — especially friends who believe them, support them in whatever way they can, and understand the severity of their situation.

As you’ve been working your way through these past five years, have you noticed any impacts on your finances?

Not necessarily impacts on my finances, but I certainly have learned a lot. As a Muslim, paying or garnering interest is a huge sin, so I’ve always only kept a debit card/checking account for myself.

And fortunately because of where I rented for the last several years, I never had to think or even knew about the process of getting my credit checked or possibly being refused a place to live because of it.

However, I recently have found myself in a situation where my credit is now crucial to securing various things like a place to live, etc. And because of this situation, as I kept getting denied by apartments, I found out that my credit was extremely low — even though I’ve never had a credit card!

I was so confused for so long, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve. I’ve found a way to maneuver having a credit card without the whole garnering or paying of interest, so I’m slowly working on building my credit back up.

This situation has taught me how vital financial literacy is. There is a lot I don’t know, a lot that my past situation sheltered me from ever having to find out about money, credit, etc. So at my big age of 28, I’m starting to learn what I hope others — especially women — can learn far earlier in life.

So much of our self-sufficiency and independence depends on understanding all aspects of finances. I used to think it was such a boring topic. It genuinely was something I never cared much about.

If I had enough to pay rent, to eat, and to live decently, I was content.

If I needed more money, I just asked for more hours or got a second, or sometimes third, job.

But it took me a  long time to understand that this isn’t ideal, that there are other, smarter ways to garner income. So I’m still in the process of figuring out what works for me.

I would definitely recommend everyone take a financial literacy course.

I know IPV is a topic we honed in on in the book, and so that’s what we’re talking about today.

But I want to take a second and acknowledge that while our traumas will always be a part of us, we are more than our trauma, too.

So I just want to ask – how is the whole Nour doing? 

Thank you so much for this question. This is something I’ve been trying to focus on more myself lately: positive and exciting things.

As mentioned, I did receive my bachelor’s, so that did bring some relief and opened up a bit more employment opportunities. I also got married less than one year ago.

However, all these life events in the last couple of years really ended up putting a pause on my writing and other pursuits. But this year, as I’m more settled into my life and emotions, I really hope to get back to writing in particular.

So much of my writing in the past has been focused on my mother in the context of her abuse, and I had found it difficult to write about my positive memories of her, even though it was something I desperately wanted at the time.

But I realized that I simply wasn’t ready then, that I wasn’t as far along in my healing as I needed to be in order to be able to do so. But I know that I’m ready now, so I’m really excited to start putting out those positive stories and thoughts from my life.

And we are so excited to read them! Do you have any recent or upcoming or recently released projects you want to let readers know about?

I hope to write on more varied topics this year. I recently got an essay published on Amaliah about my fear of getting married, and how I overcame that.

If you look at my essays from before, they were all about domestic violence without exception. I don’t fault myself for that though. I think my writing is a reflection of the state of my heart. Back then, I was so consumed by my grief that I couldn’t think about anything else.

But these days, I feel so much more calm. Besides upcoming essays I hope to have published, I’ve been working on a memoir. I don’t see that coming out for at least a couple of years from now, but it’s something I’m extremely excited about, and I hope it’s something that will resonate with many others.

Nour is such a talented writer, so be sure to keep an eye out for her future work!

And thank you so much to Nour for taking the time to talk to us about such a sensitive topic that affects so many. Both for doing so five years ago, and for revisiting it today.

 

Where Are They Now? Heather Watkins from The Feminist Financial Handbook

Last Fall, I was talking to Nicole Lynn (Perry) Ó Catháin. You may remember Nicole from The Feminist Financial Handbook. So many readers became invested in these women’s stories, and Nicole had the phenomenal idea to do a series catching up with them and what their lives look like five years later. This is that series.

If you’d like to support this series, please make a donation to the Lavender Rights Project.

If you haven’t read The Feminist Financial Handbook yet, buy it here so you can get these women’s backstories!

We’re kicking off the series by catching up with Heather Watkins of Slow Walkers See More. We haven’t totally been out of touch with Heather — she contributed to the Intersectional Money series during the pandemic, and has been very active in media interviews on other outlets.

Pink to yellow gradiant background. Image of Black woman smiling at the camera with her hair up, a blue and white blouse, and a jacket on. Text reads 'Where are they now? Heather Watkins of The Feminist Financial Handbook' Image of the cover of The Feminist Financial Handbook

 

First of all, how have you been, Heather? Any personal or professional life updates you’d like to share with readers since 2018?

Oh so much has happened since that time that runs the gamut of experiences and emotions.

From the loss of my dad who lived with us and under my care as his primary caregiver to the pandemic and more loss of family and friends.

There’s also been quite a bit of balance with large bouts of joy too like the many opps for advocacy. These include disability-related articles I was in or wrote, podcast interviews, more projects and advisory board activity.

I am also a peer-researcher for an upcoming study on pregnancy experience and outcomes for Black and Latina women who have physical disabilities.  Oh and last summer we (my daughter and I) filmed for an upcoming documentary that I believe will be out sometime this year.

I am so sorry about your father and the loss of friends and family. While I know this is an experience so many of us have been through in one version of the other over the past three years, that does not erase the enormous pain of personal loss. I am always thinking of you as you carry this grief.

And please do let us know when that documentary comes out. We’d be thrilled to see it.

I feel like there’s so much to talk about in the space of disability finance over the past few years. Let’s start with the positives? For example, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act passed which will let more people build up sheltered assets starting in 2026. Some states, like California, have been reevaluating their asset limits for some programs like Medicaid (Medi-Cal.)

Are there any other big newsworthy stories you’re tuned in to that have been positive movements?

Yes, I think the student loan debt forgiveness plan is a step in the right direction. This would impact so many disabled people, especially of color who’ve taken out student loans to finance their education. Many of whom already live at or below poverty level and student loan forgiveness would help free up debt and could allow income to be directed toward other quality of life aspects.

Now we all wait with baited breath at the upcoming SCOTUS decision on whether that decision will be overturned.

Let’s hope that decision goes the right way! The case they’re ruling on is the $20,000 forgiveness for everyone — regardless of disability status. Though the program could have an outsized impact on disabled borrowers in particular. There is also a separate disability discharge program that is not impacted by all the hullabaloo — in fact, the disability discharge program is slated to get even better in July 2023.

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about the past few years without also talking about the negatives.

America seems to have embraced a type of passive eugenics when it comes to high-risk people and this pandemic. When people can’t go out into community spaces that have been made inaccessible, it makes it hard for them to earn an income or even access basic, vital services in the community.

There’s also an even larger shortage of workers in a lot of these service positions, making it even harder to access disability services than it was even a few years ago. 

I’m wondering what your thoughts on this over the past few years have been. And, if you’re comfortable sharing, how it has affected you personally at certain points?

Yes, so much of this has deeply-impacted large swaths of the disability community (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) in many ways you’ve outlined.

I have a congenital form of muscular dystrophy that impacts my mobility and now impacts my respiratory muscles. I’ve been using mobility aids for over 15 years now and also a ventilator to assist breathing when sleeping, otherwise I could risk respiratory failure.

So you might imagine the level of anxiety hearing about a virus that can impact lungs, organs, brain function, energy levels, etc. Also, thinking about a point during the lockdowns in 2020 during this ongoing pandemic where it became difficult to get my usual grocery delivery. I typically order online for ease and convenience and what would usually take a day or two to receive suddenly took weeks to get delivered.

I also made sure to take all precautions and still do, mostly by staying indoors and not going out unless completely necessary. Telehealth is a great option as well as in-home vax programs and blood draws by mobile labs. Those options gave me more peace of mind.

It wasn’t lost on me at all though, that far too many folks, especially disabled BIPOC folks who live in congested city, rural, and small towns were and are still dealing with degrees of inaccessibility.

Also, there are many disabled folks, especially of color who may be caring for self, have caregiving duties, and live in multi-generational households with little or no room to isolate and/or quarantine when someone becomes ill.

We heard quite a few of those stories circulating and can only imagine the numbers of the ones we don’t hear about. Still far too many events and orgs dropped mask requirements and with many defaulting back to in-person as if we’re all suddenly going to snap back to pre-pandemic days with business as usual.

Newsflash: That ain’t happening folks.

Hard agree. Overall, do you feel like there’s been more positive or negative change in this space? Or is it a two steps forward, one step back situation?

In some ways, yes, when we consider things like the option of remote work and telehealth, hybrid events where attendance can be virtual from the safety and comfort of home.

It does concern me a great deal that we are ebbing back to more in-person requirements and not requiring masks because it doesn’t take into consideration many disabled persons as a demographic that might participate and be valued like nondisabled peers/counterparts.

Are there any specific issues we haven’t already covered that are important to pay attention to in this moment when it comes to disability finance?

Yes, I’m thinking of how inflation is a factor for nearly everyone but especially those of us who hail from marginalized identities and communities and live at or below the poverty level.

Many disabled persons who might’ve been getting a small boost in assistance have seen the help starting to dry up. Things like SNAP/EBT emergency help are ending this month for many individuals and families in 32 states.

Imagine how many folks will have to make decisions or whether to buy enough food and/or forego much needed medicine.

Also, how it will impact rental payments and mental health?

That’s a lot of destabilization and I don’t think the expansive lens and wider scope is used when these kinds of policy decisions are being made. It’s those kind of far-reaching ripples that we need to bear in mind.

That is a really important point. How are these experiences further shaped by being a woman? Or even more specifically, a Black woman in America?

I think of my experience as a Black disabled woman, mother, primary caregiver for one of my parents who lived with us until their passing almost 4 years ago. I was caring for myself, and members of my family, and doing my advocacy work.

When I was not feeling well or being fully-supported that affected my ability to run the household smoothly and provide better caregiving. My advocacy work would be put on hold or moved around to accommodate fluctuating levels of mobility and energy that was drained elsewhere.

I know many women who live in this continuum, especially Black and brown women who are often also disabled (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) and tasked with so much responsibility due to the complexity of their lives.

Are there any words you’d like to impart on other Black disabled women that may offer hope or respite as they navigate these circumstances and systems?

Know that you are not alone. Try to connect with other Black disabled women (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) to help build a community and support network born of commonality.

This will help with finding and exchanging resources, tips, information, and frustrations because that’s important too.

For people who are reading and want to become better allies, what do you think it’s important for them to know, do, or not do?

I think it’s important that allies play a supportive role and remember that they’re not the central voice.

It’s good to be mindful that first-person sources with lived experience are generally the best to inform about their lives and how they are impacted by quality of life measures and policies.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us — today and at various points over the past five years! Before we go, do you have any parting words for readers?

Yes: Try to set your own metrics for success. It will be customized to fit your needs and reflect your pace and personal benchmarks. There’s no need to compare with your peers, disabled and non-disabled.

Remember, you have autonomy and are the expert of your own experience.

 Thank you so much to Heather! Be sure to continue following her work moving forward on Slow Walkers See More.

Myth Busting Women’s Banking for Women’s History Month

Pair of blue Aldo high heeled shoes with floral print. One is resting on a large white block. The other is hovering above against a light blue wall.

I keep seeing articles and some allusions on big financial sites that say something along the lines of, “It was illegal for women to have bank accounts in their own name before the 1960s.”

And this just isn’t accurate.

While I’m all about pointing out the financial barriers women face — and banking was and is one of them — I’m fairly certain this one isn’t true.

Let’s talk about what really happened in the 20th century and prior to get a better look at women’s banking history.

Not all women

Let’s be perfectly clear with something upfront: Discourse around women’s rights in American history most often revolves around white women’s rights. Some of the laws we’ll cover today date back to a time when slavery was still legal. Some of them were influenced by people who used blatantly racist arguments to prop up the rights of white women.

And we can see the residual effect of that racism even to this day. Black individuals and other marginalized populations are still being denied credit or being given access to less credit than white individuals in 2023. Some offenders over the past 10 years include:

  • Wells Fargo
  • Hudson City Bank
  • Associated Bank
  • Bank of America

On top of limited credit, systemic poverty enforced by redlining and a million other racially-charged laws means that you’re more likely to be unbanked if you’re not white.

If you’re unbanked because you’re in Chexsystem, you might have ended up there because of the predatory fees banks are allowed to charge on low-income client accounts. If you’re in Chexsystem that effectively means you still can’t open a bank account at most financial institutions to this day.

Further reading: Kassandra Dasent’s review of The Black Tax

Colonial America & Post-Revolutionary America

Women could participate in the economy — including banking —  in Colonial America. To be fair, the percentage of women that did participate in banking in particular was minuscule compared to total populace because there were still so many societal obstacles. Though a much larger portion of the population did engage in small business endeavors.

It was a little more complicated for married women. When you got married, you were typically subject to coverture laws, which essentially means you merge into the same legal being as your husband. In most colonies, that meant your husband could conduct business relative to your shared estate without your consent, but you could not do the same without his consent.

You could, if you were monied and powerful enough, become a feme sole trader, which was a legal allowance that let you evade coverture. In this way you could get married and still maintain your own legal estate as if you were single.

While things got marginally less good after the Revolution that established our new country in terms of banking and property rights, as pressure to raise the first generation of American men fell on mothers, by and large these same rules applied to women in the early days of America. Things were particularly favorable to women (at least in the context of the times) in the Northeast, and New York state in particular had some progressive laws in this rite.

FUN FACT: Wanna know something that was widely accepted in early America? Abortion.

When things started to change course

Things started to change for women in the Victorian age leading up to and including the Industrial Revolution.

Why did they change?

Ironically enough, because of the rise of one specific woman to power.

Queen Victoria of England is purported to have some pretty strong views on women’s roles in society, which included unpaid domestic labor and motherhood as a divine calling. ‘Proper’ women weren’t meant to work outside the home. Her philosophies spread to the States.

This was also the era when women were considered to be morally superior, and had to take on the burden of amending men’s iniquities while being discouraged from building their own independence.

In many ways, this was a rebellion against the relative gains women’s rights had experienced in England in the 1700s.

How much of these popular thoughts of the time can actually be ascribed to Victoria’s opinions is a little cloudy. While she is on record saying women shouldn’t pursue certain professions, and after her death some comments she made casting the women’s rights movement  in a negative light surfaced and circulated, she was also used as a foil by both sides of women’s rights movements simply because she was a woman in power.

A lot of women who weren’t rich still did work. Things weren’t equal towards them, and there was a lot of workplace harassment. (Arguably while things have gotten better, these circumstances still exist in 2023.)

Rich women often passed from being an attachment on their father’s estate to merging into their husband’s estate, without building up any assets or savings they could truly call their own.

Early laws for women’s property and banking

It’s interesting that the number of laws protecting women’s financial rights rise exactly when those rights were effectively being further restricted because of shifting societal norms.

Most of these laws applied to married women because, again, if you were single or widowed or  divorced, you were still allowed to hold property or open a bank account. At many, though not all, banks, you might need a male family member’s consent, but this was  a bit less common than if you were married.

Just because you were allowed to manage your finances independently if you weren’t married didn’t mean you didn’t face discrimination. A bank might refuse to lend to you or allow you to open a bank account based on your gender, though a lot of the culture around those laws varied in different states.

There were often ‘Ladies Waiting Rooms‘ at banks that were friendly to women. Depending on the state and the individual bank, these rooms were meant for you to wait while your husband conducted business, or for you to wait while someone in the ‘Ladies Department’ prepared for the meeting concerning your own, independent finances.

1839: Married women can hold property in their own name in Mississippi. But like…

Mississippi is often credited as the first state that passed laws allowing married women to hold their own property. But the story is messy.

Remember how I said women’s rights were often advocated for in a racially-charged way?

This story is no exception.

Both legal cases that culminated in the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1839 centered around a woman’s right to own a slave as her own property.

The other aspect of this story is that while Mississippi was the first state to feel the need to pass this type of law, Louisiana Civil Code may have had some modicum of influence on the case. And Louisiana Civil Code already allowed married women to maintain their own property.

Please note that I do not condone the language used in the following piece, but you can take a deeper dive on the history of this specific law here.

1848: Married Women’s Property Act in New York State

In 1848, New York State passed a law that gave married women the right to own their own property. It should be noted that despite being a Northern state, slavery did still happen in New York. So it’s not like that element was taken out of the equation.

This law gave married women the right to:

  • Not be automatically liable for her husband’s debts.
  • Enter contracts independently.
  • Collect rents in her own name.
  • Receive inheritances in her own name.
  • File a lawsuit on her own.

Every single other state followed suit over the next 52 years, with similar laws on the books across the country by 1900.

1862: First state allows women to open bank accounts regardless of marital status.

That’s right. Alllll the way back in 1862, California became the first state to pass a law that explicitly allowed women to open a bank account in their own names — regardless of marital status. So even married women could participate independently.

Something to note, both with New York and California, is that these laws were impacted by people involved in the Suffragist movement. Many in the Suffragist movement were notably racist, using the rights that Black men technically but not always effectively gained after the Civil War as an argument for why white women should be granted political power and the right to vote.

Banker of Note: Maggie Lena Walker

1862: Homestead Act

In 1862, Abe Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. There’s a lot to say about the Homestead Act, but there are two pertinent points in today’s context.

The first is that it pushed cultural norms by not requiring a male cosigner for single women to participate in homesteading in their own name. While it wasn’t a banking regulation, the fact that this policy was included was of influential note.

The other thing to note with the Homestead Act is that, once again, systemic obstacles made it difficult for Black people to participate regardless of gender. Kassandra keyed us into the fact that while former slaves were eligible, the application fees were high enough to be prohibitive to an already economically disenfranchised people, resulting in 99% of the beneficiaries of the Homestead Act being white.

So, what happened in the 1960s, then?

To be real with you, I’m not 100% sure what people are referring to when they say something in the 1960s happened to make it legal for women to hold a bank account. All I can find are unsourced declarations parroted across finance sites over the past couple of years.

There were laws passed that protected women against (certain types of) pay discrimination when it came to the minimum wage, and against certain cases of employment discrimination. White women did piggyback their way into the Civil Rights Act of 1964, too, though this law didn’t apply to banks.

What I can tell you is what happened in the 1970s.

RBG and credit

Okay, so we know that at least since the mid-1800s if not prior, women could open a bank account in their own name. Whether they could do it as a single woman or a married woman varied by state. And even in states that allowed it, there were cultural practices that effectively ended in discrimination.

Credit was even more of a problem, and it was becoming an increasing concern as Americans started relying more heavily on credit in the 20th century. In these instances, married women were often still considered to be one legal body with their husbands, and banks often required the husband’s signature and assets to be considered on the application.

In this space, single women also faced discrimination, especially if they were younger and of marrying age. The assumption was that once they got married, they’d no longer work or have an income, and therefore they’d be bad accounts to take on.

Perceived fertility wasn’t the end all and be all, though — we were still holding onto some Victorian values that women were the weaker sex, more emotional and incapable of handling practical, logical matters on their own. Like money, and more specifically, credit.

In 1974, after a lot of great work from RBG while at the ACLU, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, which, among other things, required banks to consider credit applications in a woman’s own name regardless of marital status, and only allowed banks to require the consideration of a husband’s finances if it was a joint application.

My understanding (I am not a lawyer) is that these regulations applied to anyone who issued credit, and because banks and financial institutions are the ones that tend to offer credit, they also could no longer make these requirements of those applying for deposit accounts, either.

Though, again, depending on where you lived, you may have already been protected from that discrimination by state law for deposit accounts in technicality if not practice.

Why is this important?

Were things harder for women in regards to banking prior to the 1970s?

Absolutely.

But it was not illegal for a woman to hold a bank account prior to the 1960s. Some women did, and some women also held mortgages and other financial products in their own names. Some women were independently wealthy of their spouse or lack thereof.

A lot the women who did hold bank accounts were single — whether they be single mothers, never married, or widowed. Overall, they faced a lot of financial obstacles particularly when it came to workplace and employment discrimination. But when they were allowed to earn money, some were allowed to manage it, and many of them deserve some props for doing so.

It’s not just the erasure of women’s contributions that’s important. When we pretend like nothing was allowed for women in the financial sector prior to the 1970s, we also erase the systemic racism built into our legal history. Many of these laws were passed in favor of white women’s whiteness, sometimes in direct and vocal opposition to the rights of Black citizens and other marginalized citizens.

We continue to see the remnants of these ideologies passed on through our laws and the practice thereof today.

All this said, I do not have a PhD in History. I am not a lawyer. If I’m missing nuance, if I’m missing laws, let me know in the comments. This conversation is open to discourse.

Money News: 2023 Edition

It’s 2023 and we’re all very busy pretending the sky isn’t falling.

I hope that so far this year has been a little easier on your finances. Today, I wanted to take a minute to provide you with updates on some of the topics we’ve discussed on Femme Frugality in the past.

Some of the updates are great news or good hacks you can use to make your money better.

Some of them are straight bummers.

But if we’re aware of the negatives, we can plan better for them and ultimately make our financial lives a little less rocky.

Getting Grants for Disabled Family Members

Today is launch day for Season 3 of Mom Autism Money!

Joyce and I were super psyched to sit down with Sheletta Brundidge to learn about how her family secured over $200,000 in grant funding for her Autistic children’s needs.

Not only has Sheletta gotten the money, but she now teaches workshops to parents who want to do the same. She shares tips and tricks for the grant search and application process in this episode.

Even if you don’t need this episode, I promise there’s someone in your life who does. Insurance hardly covers the cost of disability, and grants can help individuals and families fill in the gaps. Please share it with the people in your life it could help.

ABLE Age Adjustment Act passed!

In December 2022, SECURE 2.0 passed. Inside of SECURE 2.0 was the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, which pushes the eligible age of onset of disability from 26 to 46, opening up the accounts to 6 million new Americans effective in 2026.

Here’s where you can get all the details on the changes and implications of this bill’s passage into law.

If you don’t care about ABLE accounts, you need to look into SECURE 2.0 period. Especially if you’re not Daddy Warbucks. There are massive changes to retirement plans in there, and most of them apply to low- or middle-income Americans. For once, the changes can tip things in our favor if we’re paying attention.

Your tax refund is prolly gonna be a whole lot smaller.

I know. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you need to be prepared for the fact that your 2022 refund is likely to be a whole lot smaller this year. Here’s why. Of course, a lot of things depend on which of the income tax brackets 2022 you fall into as well.

You might even owe!

Inflation isn’t done with the grocery stores yet.

Overall, inflation is on its way down. It’s still incredibly too high, but at least it’s headed in the right direction.

One place where it’s NOT headed in the right direction?

The aisle of your grocery store. The USDA is predicting an overall hike of 8%, though prices may go up way higher than that depending on item, and some products are actually predicted to have a price decrease.

Here are some of the things you can expect to spend more money on in 2023. The piece is specific to Costco, but aside from the bit about membership fees, the same general idea can be applied to any store.