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The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is the federal law which, among other things, says that everyone has the right to apply for credit without fear of discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, race, color, religion, national origin, age, reliance on income from public assistance, or because you may have exercised rights under the Consumer Protection laws.
All banks, savings and loans, credit unions, finance companies, department stores, credit card issuers, car and appliance dealers, and others who regularly participate in credit decisions must comply with the ECOA.
The ECOA does not entitle you to credit whenever you want it. You must still pass the creditor's test which indicates your ability and willingness to repay debt.
What the ECOA does say is that a creditor must apply these tests without discrimination and should not discourage you from applying for credit on the basis of the prohibited factors.
Usually, you may not be asked for your sex, race, color, religion, or national origin when the creditor takes your application. However, the creditor must ask about these characteristics in applications for residential real estate credit, although you are not required to answer. The idea is to build a history of facts that will help enforce the law against discrimination in mortgage loans. The information cannot be used in evaluating your application.
On an application for separate credit, a creditor may not ask about your marital status except when the credit is to be secured by property in which your spouse has a legal interest. The creditor may then use only the terms "married," "unmarried," or "separated."
If you are a married woman, you may use your birth-given first and surnames in applying for credit.
In the case of a couple, either member may get separate credit provided he or she is creditworthy. When this happens, finance charges and loan ceilings are to be determined individually, not on the combined credit outstanding.
Information about your spouse may be requested and used only when . . .
A creditor may not ask about a women's birth control practices or childbearing capabilities or intentions. A creditor may not assume because of a woman's age that she may stop work to have a baby.
Income. . . .
A creditor may ask and consider to what extent your income is affected by obligations to pay alimony, child support, or maintenance.
A creditor may ask to what extent you are relying on alimony, child support, or maintenance to repay credit provided the creditor first informs you that it is not necessary to list such income if you won't use it to make repayment.
A creditor must consider part-time or public assistance income in an evaluation, but the creditor may look into the probability that this income will continue.
Changed Circumstances. . .
A creditor may not require you to reapply, alter the terms, or terminate an open-end account solely because:
Credit Reporting . . .
When a creditor reports to credit bureaus the report must identify any accounts used by both spouses or on which both are liable. This is so that a credit history can be prepared for each spouse individually.
Age . . .
A creditor may ask your age to be sure you have reached the legal age to enter into contracts.
A creditor who uses a credit-scoring system may include your age if you are 62 or over only to favor your score and the system used must meet specific standards of reliability.
A creditor who relies on judgment to evaluate your application may consider age to determine how long you probably will continue to work and at what level of income.
A creditor may not refuse or terminate credit when credit insurance is not available because of your age.
Within 30 days after your application is completed, the creditor must notify you whether or not it has been approved.
If your application is denied, the creditor must give you, in writing:
It is not a violation of the ECOA if a creditor refuses to extend credit to you solely because you don't qualify for a special program designed to meet the needs of a particular group.
Each creditor shall promptly furnish an applicant, upon written request by the applicant made within a reasonable time, a copy of the appraisal report used in connection with an application for a loan that is or would have been secured by a lien on residential real property. The creditor may require the applicant to reimburse the creditor for the cost of the appraisal, photocopy, and postage costs. A creditor need not provide a copy when the applicant's request is received more than 90 days after the creditor has provided notice of action taken on the application or 90 days after the application is withdrawn.
A creditor has not committed a violation if clearly the creditor has established and is maintaining suitable procedures but fails to comply with a provision of the ECOA because of a mechanical, electronic, or clerical error.
If you have questions about the creditor's compliance with the ECOA, get in touch with the Federal agency whose name has been given to you by the creditor.
If you think you have been discriminated against under the ECOA, you may file suit in court against the creditor, who can be held liable for actual damages you have suffered and for punitive damages up to $10,000.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the federal credit law given in this brochure and provides consumers with free information.