Fair and equal access to credit and mortgage loans is essential in enabling people to accumulate wealth and become homeowners. Two federal laws can protect you from discrimination when applying for a mortgage: the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) (Link to Credit Discrimination article) and the Fair Housing Act).
When does mortgage discrimination occur?
It can be challenging to determine whether a credit grantor denies your loan application, charges you more for a loan, offers less favorable terms based on unlawful discrimination, or because your loan application has some weak points. And to make it even more complicated, credit grantors must often ask for (and evaluate) personal information, such as your income, expenses, debts, and credit history. In addition, credit grantors may ask you to provide information that may appear discriminatory, for example, voluntarily, race, ethnicity, age, gender, marital status (married, unmarried, or separated) because with this information, the government can make statistics to fight against discrimination. You are not required to provide the information.
Equal Credit Opportunity Act
The ECOA Law applies broadly to any organization or person that regularly extends credit. This includes banks, small finance and loan companies, mortgage companies, retail and big-box stores, credit card companies, and credit unions. The law makes it illegal for credit grantors to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin/nationality, sex, marital status, or because all or part of a person’s income comes from a public assistance source. Or because the applicant has exercised in good faith a right granted by the law that establishes consumer credit protections called the Consumer Credit Protection Act. (Links to CFPB) All those who participate in the decision process of granting a loan or setting the terms and conditions thereof, including real estate agents who process the financing, must comply with the Equal Opportunity Law of Credit (ECOA) provisions.
Fair Housing Law
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people from discrimination when they engage in housing-related activities. This applies to all residential real estate transactions, including loans to buy, build, repair, or renovate homes. This law makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national/national origin, disability. Or family status or status; (Family status or situation refers to the composition of your family, including whether your family group is made up of children under 18 years of age or pregnant women).
Below are some examples of (and is not) illegal practice of mortgage discrimination under the ECOA and FHA.
Concerning mortgage loans, during the application process or at the time of making a credit decision, a credit grantor:
It should not dissuade you from applying for a loan or rejecting your mortgage application based on the following factors:
- its race,
- country of origin/nationality,
- family situation,
- civilian status,
- if your income comes from a public assistance program,
- Or if you have exercised any right protected by federal credit laws.
You must not offer different terms or conditions, for example, a higher interest rate or higher fees (based on any of these factors).
It must not deny you credit, such as a mortgage, set the terms of your mortgage, or apply different terms or conditions to your mortgage, for example, a higher interest rate or a higher down payment (based on any of these factors).
You don’t have to consider the neighborhood’s racial makeup in which you want to buy, refinance or retrofit a home with the money you’re borrowing.
It would be best if you did not consider your religion.
- But you may be asked to provide this information voluntarily because federal agencies use it to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
You should not consider your nationality or national origin.
- But you can consider your immigration status to assess whether you have a right to remain in the country for a sufficient period to repay the debt.
It would help if you did not consider your age unless:
- You are too young to sign contracts, generally for those under 18 years of age.
- You are at least 62 years old, and the credit grantor will favor you because of your age.
- Your age is used to determine the significance of other important factors regarding your creditworthiness. For example, a credit grantor might use her age as a factor in deciding whether he will receive less income because he is about to retire.
- Your age is used within a valid credit scoring system to favor applicants over 62. A credit scoring system assigns points to the answers you give on your credit applications. For example, your length of employment might have a different score depending on your age.
It would be best if you did not consider your disability.
You should not consider if you have a phone account in your name.
- But you can consider if you have a phone line in your house.
You cannot ask for information about your spouse unless:
- Your spouse is applying for the loan with you.
- You depend on your spouse’s income or an alimony or child support fee from a former spouse.
- You reside in a state with a community property regime.
You cannot ask questions about your family planning, that is, if you plan to have or raise children.
It cannot ask you if you receive alimony payments, child support payments, or spousal support payments.
- Unless it first tells you that you are not required to provide this information but rely on that income for credit.
- But a credit grantor may ask if you have to pay alimony, child support, or spousal support.
When assessing your income, a credit grantor:
You can’t refuse to treat fixed public assistance income the same way as other income.
You cannot subtract income based on your gender or marital status. For example:
- A credit grantor cannot consider the salary of a man at 100 percent and that of a woman at 75 percent.
- A credit grantor cannot assume that a young woman will stop working to raise her children.
You cannot subtract or disregard any part of the income because it comes from part-time employment, Social Security, pensions, or annuities.
You can’t refuse to consider fixed payments for alimony, child support, or spousal support.
- But a credit grantor may ask for proof that you consistently receive these payments.
Before and during your mortgage review
Many factors go into a credit grantor’s decision to approve your mortgage application, and not everyone who applies for a mortgage loan will qualify for one. The best time to improve your chances of getting your application approved is before using it.
Check your credit report. This is a crucial way to prepare before submitting your mortgage application. Lenders will look at your income, expenses, debt, and credit history to make decisions about the strength of your home loan application. Some of that information is in your credit report, and you want to make sure it’s correct. If your credit report has inaccurate information, you can dispute those errors with the credit reporting company. (link to Disputing Errors in Credit Report article)
Get past due debts in order. Use the correct information from your credit report to contact the companies you owe money to, check the amount past due, and cancel or pay off the debt.
Calculate the amount you can pay each month. Knowing this information in advance can help you apply for a loan that fits your budget.
Determine the amount of your down payment. The amount of your down payment can determine the type of loans you can access.
There is much more information available on shopping for and comparing mortgages.
When you have your application ready, the lender will review it and see if you have a fixed income and if you are likely to repay the loan.
The law establishes that credit grantors must consider all sources of fixed income:
- Funds you get from public assistance programs.
- Income from part-time employment, Social Security, pensions, and annuities.
- Alimony, child support, or spousal support payments if you provide this information.
A credit grantor may ask you for proof that you receive these payments consistently.
If you meet the credit grantor’s requirements, they cannot require you to present a cosigner or cosigner. (A cosigner is someone who agrees to repay the loan if the borrower defaults.) But if your spouse will also own the home, the lender may ask you to cosign the loan documents. If you need a cosigner, the lender must agree to cosign someone other than your spouse.
If you don’t get the loan
There are many factors involved in evaluating and approving mortgage loan applications. Your application may not be approved the first time. If a credit grantor agrees to your loan, they must tell you within 30 days of receiving your application.
If a credit grantor denies your application, then you must:
- Inform you and give you the reasons for the rejection in writing. You may have to ask for specific reasons, but if you do so within 60 days, the credit grantor must tell you the reasons.
- Provide you with the name and address of the agency to contact to report your concerns.
Please review the reasons for the denial carefully. An unacceptable reason would be: “does not meet the minimum requirements.” That’s not specific enough, and it’s in your best interest to ask for an explanation. If you’re having trouble getting an acceptable resolution or suspect you’re being discriminated against, speak up.
For example, some of the acceptable reasons for denying your application might be “your income was too low” or “you haven’t stayed in the same job long enough.” Other acceptable reasons for denial of loans are:
Your credit report contains negative information. Suppose the credit grantor denies your application because of information in your credit report. In that case, the credit grantor must tell you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting company that provided the information. You can get a free copy of that report from the credit reporting company if you ask for it within 60 days. (That report is in addition to the free annual credit report you can order from each credit reporting company. (Link to Free Credit Report article) If your credit report has inaccurate information, the credit reporting company must investigate the information you dispute. Businesses that provide erroneous information to credit reporting companies must also re-investigate data you contradict. If, after the reinvestigation, you continue to fight the credit reporting company’s account, make sure a summary of the problem is included in your report.
You have too much debt relative to your income. Your debt-to-income ratio is a percentage that represents the number of your obligations divided by your gross monthly income. This is the most used by credit grantors to analyze if you can handle the monthly payments. If your debt ratio is too high compared to your income, credit grantors may consider lending you money too risky because you may not be able to pay it back.
The appraised value of the property could be meager. An appraisal is an expert report done at the lender’s request to provide an accurate assessment of the property’s value. If the appraised value is lower than the price you agreed to pay for the property, the lender will not approve your application. Check the appraisal of the property to see if it contains accurate information. You may be able to determine if the assessor considered illegal factors, such as the neighborhood’s racial makeup. For example, you can see if the sales price of other comparable homes in your area is similar to or higher than the appraised value of the home you’re interested in. Otherwise, the assessment could have been based on illegal factors, such as the neighborhood’s racial makeup.
If a credit grantor offers you less favorable terms than those on your application, you have the right to know the specific reasons, but only if you reject those terms. For example, if the lender offers you a loan for a lower amount or charges a higher interest rate and you do not accept the offer, you have the right to know why you were offered those terms.