"My husband and I always paid our phone, gas, and electric bills
promptly. Then...suddenly...he was gone. When I tried to get utility
service in my own name, each company wanted me to make deposits ranging
from $25 to $100. Can they do this?'
A utility account is generally a credit account.
You get service now and pay for it later. Like any other creditor, a
utility company keeps a record of your payment patterns. This record is
your utility credit history.
The utility company generally can require a deposit if you have a bad
utility credit history, if you are a new customer and all new customers
are required to pay deposits, or for other non-discriminatory reasons. For
example, the utility company might ask you to pay a deposit if there is no
record of your name on your husband's account. But if you had previous
service in your husband's name, the company must consider that credit
history as yours. If you shared a credit history, it might be unlawful to
require you to pay a deposit if your husband got credit without paying a
But there is another side of the coin. If your husband's credit history
on a shared account was bad, the company will consider that credit history
yours as well and might ask you to pay a deposit or get a letter of
guarantee. The ECOA gives you the opportunity to prove that your husband's
bad credit history did not reflect your unwillingness or inability to pay.
For example, if you can prove that you did not live with your husband when
the account was overdue, the company must take that into consideration. If
you never saw the bills, or paid them as soon as you discovered they were
overdue -- that also must be considered.
Whenever you are denied credit or offered less than favorable credit
terms that you do not want to accept -- including utility credit -- you
have the right to know the specific reason. If this happens, request the
reason in writing.