Lenders can't discriminate against applicants because of immigration status, feds warn

Blanket policies that don't consider individuals' creditworthiness aren't acceptable.

Banks and mortgage companies are being reminded that they can't discriminate against loan applicants on the basis of race, national origin or immigration status.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Justice Department today issued a joint statement, saying that consumers have reported being rejected for credit cards as well as for auto, student, personal, and equipment loans because of their immigration status, even when they have strong credit histories and ties to the United States and are otherwise qualified to receive the loans.

While the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allows a creditor to consider an applicant’s immigration status when necessary to ascertain the creditor’s rights regarding repayment, creditors should be aware that unnecessary or overbroad reliance on immigration status, including when that reliance is based on bias, may run afoul of the law.

“Fair access to credit is crucially important for building wealth and strengthening household financial stability,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “The CFPB will not allow companies to use immigration status as an excuse for illegal discrimination.”

“Lenders should not deny people the opportunity to take out a loan to buy a home, build their businesses or otherwise pursue their financial goals because of unlawful bias and without regard to their actual ability to repay,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This guidance reminds lenders that denying someone access to credit based solely on their actual or perceived immigrant status may violate federal law.”

Blanket policies won't do

Some financial institutions have maintained blanket policies denying credit to individuals based on their immigration status, regardless of their personal circumstances and demonstrated ability to repay, arguing that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the regulation that implements it, protect them whenever they consider immigration status in making a credit decision, the agencies said.

Others have incorrectly claimed that the Act shields lenders from liability under other federal and state civil rights laws that bar discrimination on the basis of someone’s status as an immigrant or noncitizen.

The joint statement explains that while the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allows creditors to consider immigration status when necessary to ascertain the creditor’s rights regarding repayment, unnecessary or overbroad reliance on immigration status may violate the Act’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of national origin, race or another prohibited basis.

Read today’s joint statement.

Consumers can submit complaints about financial products or services by visiting the CFPB’s website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). More than 180 languages are available by phone.

Employees who believe their companies have violated federal consumer financial protection laws are encouraged to send information about what they know to [email protected]. To learn more about reporting potential industry misconduct, visit the CFPB’s website.