5000 - Statements of Policy
POLICY STATEMENT ON DISCRIMINATION IN LENDING
The Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), the Department of Justice ("DOJ"), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency ("OCC"), the Office of Thrift Supervision ("OTS"), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the "Board"), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"), the Federal Housing Finance Board ("FHFB"), the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"), the National Credit Union Administration ("NCUA"), and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight ("OFHEO") (collectively, "the Agencies") are concerned that some prospective home buyers and other borrowers may be experiencing discriminatory treatment in their efforts to obtain loans. The 1992 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study on lending discrimination, Congressional hearings, and agency investigations have indicated that race is a factor in some lending decisions. Discrimination in lending on the basis of race or other prohibited factors is destructive, morally repugnant, and against the law. It prevents those who are discriminated against from enjoying the benefits of access to credit. The Agencies will not tolerate lending discrimination in any form. Further, fair lending is not inconsistent with safe and sound operations. Lenders must continue to ensure that their lending practices are consistent with safe and sound operating policies.
This policy statement applies to all lenders, including mortgage brokers, issuers of credit cards, and any other person who extends credit of any type. The policy statement is being issued for several reasons, including:
To provide guidance about what the agencies consider in determining if lending discrimination exists; and
To provide a foundation for future intepretations and rulemakings by the Agencies.
A number of federal statutes seek to promote fair lending. For example, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act ("HMDA"), 12 U.S.C. 2801 et seq., seeks to prevent lending discrimination and redlining by requiring public disclosure of certain information about mortgage loan applications. The Community Reinvestment Act ("CRA"), 12 U.S.C. 2901 et seq., seeks affirmatively to encourage institutions to help to meet the credit needs of the entire community served by each institution covered by the statute, and CRA ratings take into account lending discrimination by those institutions. The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 1210 et seq., prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of goods and services, including credit services. This policy statement, however, is based upon and addresses only the Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA"), 15 U.S.C. 1691 et seq., and the Fair Housing Act ("FH Act"), 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., the two statutes that specifically prohibit discrimination in lending.
This policy statement has been approved and adopted by the signatory Agencies listed above as a statement of the Agencies' general position on the ECOA and the FH Act for purposes of administrative enforcement of those statutes. It is intended to be consistent with those statutes and their implementing regulations and to provide guidance to lenders seeking to comply with them. It does not create or confer any substantive or procedural rights on third parties which could be enforceable in any administrative or civil proceeding.
This policy statement will discuss what constitutes lending discrimination under these statutes and answer questions about how the Agencies will respond to lending discrimination and what steps lenders might take to prevent discriminatory lending practices.
A. Lending Discrimination Statutes and Regulations
(1) The ECOA prohibits discrimination in any aspect of a credit transaction. The ECOA is not limited to consumer loans. It applies to any extension of credit, including extensions of credit to small businesses, corporations, partnerships, and trusts.
The ECOA prohibits discrimination based on:
Race or color;
Age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract);
The applicant's receipt of income derived from any public assistance program; and
The applicant's exercise, in good faith, of any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
The Federal Reserve Board's Regulation B, found at 12 CFR Part 202, implements the ECOA. Regulation B describes lending acts and practices that are specifically prohibited, permitted, or required. Official interpretations of the regulation are found in Supplement I to 12 CFR Part 202.
(2) The FH Act prohibits discrimination in all aspects of residential real-estate related transactions, including, but not limited to:
Making loans to buy, build, repair or improve a dwelling;
Purchasing real estate loans;
Selling, brokering or appraising residential real estate; and
Selling or renting a dwelling.
The FH Act prohibits discrimination based on:
Race or color;
Familial status (defined as children under the age of 18 living with a parent or legal custodian, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under 18); and
HUD's regulations implementing the FH Act are found at 24 CFR Part 100.
Because both the FH Act and the ECOA apply to mortgage lending, lenders may not discriminate in mortgage lending based on any of the prohibited factors in either list.
Liability under these two statutes for discrimination on a prohibited basis is civil, not criminal. However, there is criminal liability under the FH Act for various forms of interference with efforts to enforce the FH Act, such as altering or withholding evidence or forcefully intimidating persons seeking to exercise their rights under the FH Act.
What is prohibited. Under the ECOA, it is unlawful for a lender to discriminate on a prohibited basis in any aspect of a credit transaction and, under both the ECOA and the FH Act, it is unlawful for a lender to discriminate on a prohibited basis in a residential real estate related transaction. Under one or both of these laws, a lender may not, because of a prohibited factor:
Fail to provide information or services or provide different information or services regarding any aspect of the lending process, including credit availability, application procedures, or lending standards;
Discourage or selectively encourage applicants with respect to inquiries about or applications for credit;
Refuse to extend credit or use different standards in determining whether to extend credit;
Vary the terms of credit offered, including the amount, interest rate, duration, or type of loan;
Use different standards to evaluate collateral;
Treat a borrower differently in servicing a loan or invoking default remedies; or
Use different standards for pooling or packaging a loan in the secondary market.
A lender may not express, orally or in writing, a preference based on prohibited factors or indicate that it will treat applicants differently on a prohibited basis.
A lender may not discriminate on a prohibited basis because of the characteristics of:
A person associated with a credit applicant (for example, a co-applicant, spouse, business partner, or live-in aide); or
Finally, the FH Act requires lenders to make reasonable accommodations for a person with disabilities when such accommodations are necessary to afford the persons an equal opportunity to apply for credit.
B. Types of Lending Discrimination
The courts have recognized three methods of proof of lending discrimination under the ECOA and the FH Act:
"Overt evidence of discrimination," when a lender blatantly discriminates on a prohibited basis;
Evidence of "disparate treatment," when a lender treats applicants differently based on one of the prohibited factors; and
Evidence of "disparate impact," when a lender applies a practice uniformly to all applicants but the practice has a discriminatory effect on a prohibited basis and is not justified by business necessity.
Overt Evidence of Discrimination. There is overt evidence of discrimination when a lender openly discriminates on a prohibited basis.
Example: A lender offered a credit card with a limit of up to $750 for applicants aged 21--30 and $1500 for applicants over 30. This policy violatd the ECOA's prohibition on discrimination based on age.
There is overt evidence of discrimination even when a lender expresses--but does not act on--a discriminatory preference:
Example: A lending officer told a customer, "We do not like to make home mortgages to Native Americans, but the law says we cannot discriminate and we have to comply with the law." This statement violated the FH Act's prohibition on statements expressing a discriminatory preference.
Evidence of Disparate Treatment. Disparate treatment occurs when a lender treats a credit applicant differently based on one of the prohibited bases. Disparate treatment ranges from overt discrimination to more subtle disparities in treatment. It does not require any showing that the treatment was motivated by prejudice or a conscious intention to discriminate against a person beyond the difference in treatment itself. It is considered by courts to be intentional discrimination because no credible, nondiscriminatory reason explains the difference in treatment on a prohibited basis.
Example: Two minority loan applicants were told that it would take several hours and require the payment of an application fee to determine whether they would qualify for a home mortgage loan. In contrast, a loan officer took financial information immediately from nonminority applicants and determined whether they qualified in minutes, without a fee being paid. The lender's differential treatment violated both the ECOA and the FH Act.
Redlining refers to the illegal practice of refusing to make residential loans or imposing more onerous terms on any loans made because of the predominant race, national origin, etc., of the residents of the neighborhood in which the property is located. Redlining violates both the FH Act and the ECOA.
Disparate treatment may more likely occur in the treatment of applicants who are neither clearly well-qualified nor clearly unqualified. Discrimination may more readily affect applicants in this middle group for two reasons. First, because the applications are all "close cases," there is more room and need for lender discretion. Second, whether or not an applicant qualifies may depend on the level of assistance the lender provides the applicant in preparing an application. The lender may, for example, propose solutions to problems on an application, identify compensating factors, and provide encouragement to the applicant. Lenders are under no obligation to provide such assistance, but to the extent that they do, the assistance must be provided in a nondiscriminatory way.
Example: A nonminority couple applies for an automobile loan. The lender found adverse information in the couple's credit report. The lender discussed the credit report with them and determined that the adverse information, a judgment against the couple, was incorrect since the judgment had been vacated. The nonminority couple was granted their loan. A minority couple applied for a similar loan with the same lender. Upon discovering adverse information in the minority couple's credit report, the lender denied the loan application on the basis of the adverse information without giving the couple an opportunity to discuss the report.
Example: Two minority borrowers inquired with a lender about mortgage loans. They were given applications for fixed-rate loans only and were not offered assistance in completing the loan applications. They completed the applications on their own and ultimately failed to qualify. Two similarly situated nonminority borrowers made an identical inquiry about mortgage loans to the same lender. They were given information about both adjustable-rate and fixed-rate mortgages and were given assistance in preparing application that the lender could accept.
Both of these are examples of disparate treatment of similarly situated applicants, apparently based on a prohibited factor, in the amount of assistance and information the lender provided. The lender might also generally exercise its discretion to disfavor some individuals or favor others in a manner that results in a pattern or practice of disparate treatment that cannot be explained on grounds other than a prohibited basis.
If a lender has apparently treated similar applicants differently on the basis of a prohibited factor, it must provide an explanation for the difference in treatment. If the lender is unable to provide a credible and legitimate nondiscriminatory explanation, the agency may infer that the lender discriminated.
If an agency determines that a lender's explanation for treating some applicants differently is a pretext for discrimination, the agency may find that the lender discriminated, notwithstanding the lender's explanation.
Example: A lender rejected a loan application made by a female applicant with flaws in her credit report but accepted applications by male applicants with similar flaws. The lender offered the explanation that the rejected application had been processed by a new loan officer who was unfamiliar with the bank's policy to work with applicants to correct credit report problems. However, an investigation revealed that the same loan officer who processed the rejected application had accepted applications from males with similar credit problems after working with them to provide satisfactory explanations.
When a lender's treatment of two applicants is compared, even when there is an apparently valid explanation for a particular difference in treatment, further investigation may establish disparate treatment on a prohibited basis. For example, seemingly valid explanations for denying loans to minority applicants may have been applied consistently to nonminority applicants; or "offsetting" or "compensatory" factors cited as the reason for approving nonminority applicants may involve informatin that the lender usually failed to consider for minority applicants but usually considered for nonminority applicants.
A pattern or practice of disparate treatment on a prohibited basis may also be established through a valid statistical analysis of detailed loan file information, provided that the analysis controls for possible legitimate explanations for differences in treatment. Where a lender's underwriting decisions are the subject of a statistical analysis, detailed information must be collected from individual loan files about the applicants' qualifications for credit. Data reported by lenders under the HMDA do not, standing alone, provide sufficient information for such an analysis because they omit important variables, such as credit histories and debt ratios. HMDA data are useful, though, for identifying lenders whose practices may warrant investigation for compliance with fair lending laws. HMDA data may also be relevant, in conjunction with other evidence, to the determination whether a lender has discriminated.
Evidence of Disparate Impact
When a lender applies a policy or practice equally to credit applicants, but the policy or practice has a disproportionate adverse impact on applicants from a group protected against discrimination, the policy or practice is described as having a "disparate impact." Policies and practices that are neutral on their face and that are applied equally may still, on a prohibited basis, disproportionately and adversely affect a person's access to credit.
Although the precise contours of the law on disparate impact as it applies to lending discrimination are under development, it has been clearly established that proof of lending discrimination using a disparate impact analysis encompasses several steps. The single fact that a policy or practice creates a disparity on a prohibited basis is not alone proof of a violation. Where the policy or practice is justified by "business necessity" and there is no less discriminatory alternative, a violation of the FH Act or the ECOA will not exist.
The existence of a disparate impact may be established through review of how a particular practice, policy or standard operates with respect to those who are affected by it. The existence of disparate impact is not established by a mere assertion or general perception that a policy or practice disproportionately excludes or injures people on a prohibited basis. The existence of a disparate impact must be established by facts. Frequently this is done through a quantitative or statistical analysis. Sometimes the operation of the practice is reviewed by analyzing its effect on an applicant pool; sometimes it consists of an analysis of the practice's effect on possible applicants, or on the population in general. Not every member of the group must be adversely affected for the practice to have a disparate impact. Evidence of discriminatory intent is not necessary to establish that a policy or practice adopted or implemented by a lender that has a disparate impact is in violation of the FH Act or ECOA.
Identifying the existence of a disparate impact is ony the first step in proving lending discrimination under this method of proof. When an Agency finds that a lender's policy or practice has a disparate impact, the next step is to seek to determine whether the policy or practice is justified by "business necessity." The justification must be manifest and may not be hypothetical or speculative. Factors that may be relevant to the justification could include cost and profitability.
Even if a policy or practice that has a disparate impact on a prohibited basis can be justified by business necessity, it still may be found to be discriminatory if an alternative policy or practice could serve the same purpose with less discriminatory effect.
Example: A lender's policy is not to extend loans for single family residences for less than $60,000.00. This policy has been in effect for ten years. This minimum loan amount policy is shown to disproportionately exclude potential minority applicants from consideration because of their income levels or the value of the houses in the areas in which they live. The lender will be required to justify the "business necessity" for the policy.
Example: In the past, lenders primarily considered net income in making underwriting decisions. In recent years, the trend has been to consider gross income. A lender decided to switch its practices to consider gross income rather than net income. However, in calculating gross income, the lender did not distinguish between taxable and nontaxable income even though nontaxable income is of more value than the equivalent amount of taxable income. The lender's policy may have a disparate impact on individuals with disabilities and the elderly, both of whom are more likely than the general applicant pool to receive substantial nontaxable income. The lender's policy is likely to be proven discriminatory. First, the lender is unlikely to be able to show that the policy is compelled by business necessity. Second, even if the lender could show business necessity, the lender could achieve the same purpose with less discriminatory effect by "grossing up" nontaxable income (i.e., making it equivalent to gross taxable income by using formulas related to the applicant's tax bracket).
Lenders will not have to justify every requirement and practice every time that they face a compliance examination. The Agencies recognize the relevance to credit decisions of factors related to the adequacy of the borrower's income to carry the loan, the likely continuation of that income, the adequacy of the collateral to secure the loan, the borrower's past performance in paying obligations, the availability of funds to close, and the existence of adequate reserves. While lenders should think critically about whether widespread, familiar requirements and practices have an unjustifiable disparate impact, they should look especially carefully at requirements that are more stringent than customary. Lenders should also stay informed of developments in underwriting and portfolio performance evaluation so that they are well positioned to consider all options by which their business objectives can be achieved.
C. Answers to Questions Often Asked by Financial Institutions and the Public
Lending institutions and others often ask the Agencies questions about various aspects of lending discrimination. The Agencies have compiled this list of common questions, with answers, in order to provide further guidance.
Q1: Are disparities in application, approval, or denial rates revealed by HMDA data sufficient to establish lending discrimination?
A: HMDA data alone do not prove lending discrimination. The data do not contain enough information on major credit-related factors, such as employment and credit histories, to prove discrimination. Despite these limitations, the data can provide "red flags" that there may be problems at particular institutions. Therefore, regulatory and enforcement agencies may use HMDA data, along with other factors, to identify institutions whose lending practices warrant more scrutiny. Furthermore, HMDA data can be relevant, in conjunction with other data and information, to the determination whether a lender has discriminated.
Q2: Does a lending institution that submits inaccurate HMDA data violate lending discrimination laws?
A: An inaccurate HMDA data submission constitutes a violation of the HMDA, the Federal Reserve Board's Regulation C, and other applicable laws, and may subject the lending institution to an enforcement action, which could include civil money penalties, and, if the lender is a HUD-approved mortgagee, the sanctions of the HUD Mortgagee Review Board. An inaccurate HMDA data submission, however, is not in itself a violation of the ECOA or the FH Act. However, a person who intentionally submits incorrect or incomplete HMDA data in order to cover up a violation of the FH Act may be subject under the FH Act and federal criminal statutes, to a fine or prison term or both. In addition, a failure to ensure accurate HMDA data may be considered as a relevant fact during a FH Act investigation or an examination of the institution's lending activities.
Q3: Does a second review program only for loan applicants who are members of a protected class violate laws prohibiting discrimination in lending?
A: Such programs are permissible if they do no more than ensure that lending standards are applied fairly and uniformly to all applicants. For example, it is permissible to review the proposed denial of applicants who are members of a protected class by comparing their applications to the approved applications of similarly qualified individuals who are not members of a protected class to determine if the applications were evaluated consistently. It is impermissible, however, to review the applications of members of a protected class in order to apply standards to those applications different from the standards used to evaluate other applications for the same credit program or to apply the same standards in a different manner, unless such actions are otherwise permitted by law, as described in Question 4.
Other types of second review programs are also permissible. For example, lenders could review the proposed denial of all applicants within a certain income range. Lenders also could review a sampling of all applications proposed for denial, or even review all such applications.
A: Generally, a lender that applies different lending standards or offers different levels of assistance on a prohibited basis, regardless of its motivation, would be violating both the FH Act and the ECOA. There are exceptions to the general rule; thus, applying different lending standards or offering different levels of assistance to applicants who are members of a protected class is permissible in some circumstances. For example, the FH Act requires lenders to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities. In addition, providing different treatment to applicants to address past discrimination would be permissible if done in response to a court order or otherwise in accord with applicable legal precedent. However, the law in this area is complex and developing. Before implementing programs of this sort, a lender should seek legal advice.
Of course, affirmative advertising and marketing efforts that do not involve application of different lending standards are permissible under both the ECOA and the FH Act. For example, special outreach to a minority community would be permissible.
Q5: Should a lender engage in self-testing?
A: Principles of sound lending dictate that adequate policies and procedures be in place to ensure safe and sound lending practices and compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and that a lender adopt appropriate audit and control systems to determine whether the institution's policies and procedures are functioning adequately. This is as true in the area of fair lending as in other operations. Lenders should employ reliable measures for auditing fair lending compliance. A well-designed and implemented program of self-testing could be a valuable part of this process. Lenders should be aware, however, that data documenting lending discrimination discovered in a self-test generally will not be shielded from disclosure.
Corrective actions should always be taken by any lender that discovers discrimination. Self-testing and corrective actions do not expunge or extinguish legal liability for the violations of law, insulate a lender from private suits, or eliminate the primary regulatory agency's obligation to make the referrals required by law. However, they will be considered as a substantial mitigating factor by the primary regulatory agencies when contemplating possible enforcement actions. In addition, HUD and DOJ will consider as a substantial mitigating factor an institution's self-identification and self-correction when determining whether they will seek additional penalties or other relief under the FH Act and the ECOA. The Agencies strongly encourage self-testing and will consider further steps that might be taken to provide greater incentives for institutions to undertake self-assessment and self-correction.
Q6: What should a lender do if self-testing evidences lending discrimination?
A: If a lender discovers discriminatory practices, it should make all reasonable efforts to determine the full extent of the discrimination and its cause, e.g., determine whether the practices were grounded in defective policies, poor implementation or control of those policies, or isolated to a particular area of the lender's operations. The lender should take all appropriate corrective actions to address the discrimination, including, but not limited to:
Identifying customers whose applications may have been inappropriately processed, offering to extend credit if they were improperly denied; compensating them for any damages, both out-of-pocket and compensatory; and notifying them of their legal rights;
Correcting any institutional policies or procedures that may have contributed to the discrimination;
Identifying, and then training and/or disciplining, the employees involved;
Considering the need for community outreach programs and/or changes in marketing strategy or loan products to better serve minority segments of the lender's market; and
Improving audit and oversight systems in order to ensure there is no recurrence of the discrimination.
An institution is not required to report to the Agencies a lending discrimination problem it has discovered. However, a lender that reports its discovery can ensure that the corrective actions it develops are appropriate and complete and thereby minimize the damages to which it will be subject.
Q7: Will a lender be held responsible for discriminatory lending engaged in by a single loan officer where the lending institution has good policies and procedures in place, is otherwise in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and neither knows nor reasonably could have known that the officer was engaged in illegal discriminatory conduct?
A: Fair lending violations can occur even in the most well-run lending institutions that have good policies in place to ensure compliance with fair lending laws and regulations. Of course, the chances that such violations will occur can be greatly reduced by backing up those policies with proper employee training and supervision and subjecting the lending process to proven systems of oversight and review. Self-testing can further reduce the likelihood that violations may occur. Notwithstanding these efforts, a single loan officer might still improperly apply policies or, worse yet, deliberately circumvent them and manage to conceal or disguise the true nature of his or her practices for a time. It may be particularly difficult to discover this type of behavior when it occurs in the pre-application process.
In any case where discriminatory lending by a lending institution is identified, the lender will be expected to identify and fairly compensate victims of discriminatory conduct just as it would be expected to compensate a customer if an employee's conduct resulted in physical injury to the customer. In addition, such a violation might constitute a "pattern or practice" that must be referred to DOJ or a violation that must be referred to HUD.
As in other cases of discriminatory behavior, where a lender takes self-initiated corrective actions, such actions will be considered as a substantial mitigating factor by the Agencies in determining the nature of any enforcement action and what penalties or other relief would be appropriate.
Q8: If a federal financial institutions regulatory agency has "reason to believe" that a lender has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of the ECOA, the ECOA requires the agency to refer the matter to DOJ. What constitutes a "reason to believe"?
A: A federal financial institutions regulatory agency has reason to believe that an ECOA violation has occurred when a reasonable person would conclude from an examination of all credible information available that discrimination has occurred. This determination requires weighing the available evidence and applicable law and determining whether an apparent violation has occurred. Information supporting a reason to believe finding may include loan files and other documents, credible observations by persons with direct knowledge, statistical analysis, and the financial institution's response to the preliminary examination findings.
Reason to believe is more than an unfounded suspicion. While the evidence of discrimination need not be definitive and need not include evidence of overt discrimination, it should be developed to the point that a reasonable person would conclude that a violation exists.
Q9: If a federal financial institutions regulatory agency has reason to believe that a lender has engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination in violation of the ECOA, the agency will refer the matter of DOJ. What constitutes a "pattern or practice" of lending discrimination?
A: Determinations by federal financial institutions regulatory agencies regarding a pattern or practice of lending discrimination must be based on an analysis of the facts in a given case. Isolated, unrelated or accidental occurrences will not constitute a pattern or practice. However, repeated, intentional, regular, usual, deliberate, or institutionalized practices will almost always constitute a pattern or practice. The totality of the circumstances must be considered when assessing whether a pattern or practice is present. Considerations include, but are not limited to:
Whether there is evidence of similar conduct by a financial institution toward more than one applicant. Note, however, that this is not a mathematical process, e.g., "more than one" does not necessarily constitute a pattern or practice;
Whether the conduct has some common source or cause within the financial institution's control;
The relationship of the instances of conduct to one another (e.g., whether they all occurred in the same area of the financial institution's operations); and
The relationship of the number of instances of conduct to the financial institution's total lending activity. Note, however, that, depending on the circumstances, violations that involve only a small percentage of an institution's total lending activity could constitute a pattern or practice.
Depending on the egregiousness of the facts and circumstances involved, singly or in combination, these factors could provide evidence of a pattern or practice.
Q10: How does the employment of few minorities and individuals from other protected classes in lending positions--e.g., Account Executive, Underwriter, Loan Counseler, Loan Processor, Staff Appraiser, Assistant Branch Manager and Branch Manager--affect compliance with lending discrimination laws?
A: The employment of few minorities and others in protected classes, in itself, is not a violation of the FH Act or the ECOA. However, employment of few members of protected classes in lending positions can contribute to a climate in which lending discrimination could occur by affecting the delivery of services.
Therefore, lenders might consider the following steps, as appropriate to their institutions:
Advertising lending job openings in local minority-oriented publications;
Notifying predominantly minority organizations of such openings;
Seeking employment referrals from current minority employees, minority real estate boards and local historically minority colleges and other institutions that serve minority groups in the community; and
Seeking qualified independent fee appraisers from local minority appraisal organizations.
Similar outreach steps could be considered to recruit women, persons with disabilities, and other persons protected by the FH Act and the ECOA.
Q11: What is the role of the guidelines of secondary market purchasers and private and governmental loan insurers in determining whether primary lenders practice lending discrimination?
A: Many lenders make mortgage loans only when they can be sold on the secondary market, or they may place some loans in their own portfolios and sell others on the secondary market. The principal secondary market purchasers, Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"), publish underwriting guidelines to inform primary lenders of the conditions under which they will buy loans. For example, ability to repay the loan is measured by suggested ratios of monthly housing expense to income (28%) and total obligations to income (36%). However, these guidelines allow considerable discretion on the part of the primary lender. In addition, the secondary market guidelines have in some cases been made more flexible, for example, with respect to factors such as stability of income (rather than stability of employment) and use of nontraditional ways of establishing good credit and ability to pay (e.g., use of past rent and utility payment records). Lenders should ensure that their loan processors and underwriters are aware of the provisions of the secondary market guidelines that provide various alternative and flexible means by which applicants may demonstrate their ability and willingness to repay their loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not infrequently purchase mortgages exceeding the suggested ratios, and their guidelies contain detailed discussions of the compensating factors that can justify higher ratios (and which must be documented by the primary lender).
A lender who rejects an application from an applicant who is a member of a protected class and who has ratios above those of the guidelines and approved an application from another applicant with similar ratios should be prepared to show that the reason for the rejection was based on factors that are applied consistently without regard to any of the prohibited factors.
These same principles apply equally to the guidelines of private and governmental loan insurers.
Q12: What criteria will be employed in taking enforcement actions or seeking remedial measures when lending discrimination is discovered?
A: Enforcement sanctions and remedial measures for lending discrimination violations vary depending on whether such sanctions are sought by the appropriate federal financial institutions regulatory agencies, DOJ, HUD or other federal agencies charged with enforcing either the ECOA or the FH Act. The following discussion sets out the criteria typically employed by the federal banking agencies (i.e., OCC, OTS, the Board and FDIC), NCUA, DOJ, HUD, OFHEO, FHFB and FTC in determining the nature and severity of sanctions that may be used to address discriminatory lending practices. As discussed in Questions 8 and 9, above, in certain situations, the primary regulatory agencies will also refer enforcement matters to HUD or DOJ.
The federal banking agencies:
The federal banking agencies are authorized to use the full range of their enforcement authority under 12 U.S.C. 1818 to address discriminatory lending practices. This includes the authority to seek:
Enforcement actions that may require both prospective and retrospective relief; and
Civil money penalties ("CMPs") in varying amounts against the financial institution or any institution-affiliated party ("IAP") within the meaning of 12 U.S.C. 1813(u), depending, among other things, on the nature of the violation and the degree of culpability.
In addition to the above actions, the federal banking agencies may also take removal and prohibition actions against any IAP where the statutory requirements for such actions are met.
The federal banking agencies will make determinations as to the appropriateness of any potential enforcement action after giving full consideration to a variety of factors. In making these determinations, the banking agencies will take into account:
The number and duration of violations identified;
The nature of the evidence of discrimination (i.e., overt discrimination, disparate treatment or disparate impact);
Whether the discrimination was limited to a particular office or unit of the financial institution or was more pervasive in nature;
The presence and effectiveness of any anti-discrimination policies;
Any history of discriminatory conduct; and
Any corrective measures implemented or proposed by the financial institution.
The severity of the federal banking agencies' enforcement response will depend on the egregiousness of the financial institution's conduct. Voluntary identification and correction of violations disclosed through a self-testing program will be a substantial mitigating factor in considering whether to initiate an enforcement action.
In addition, the federal banking agencies may consider whether an institution has provided victims of discrimination with all the relief available to them under applicable civil rights laws.
The federal banking agencies may seek both prospective and retrospective relief for fair lending violations.
Prospective relief may include requiring the financial institution to:
Adopt corrective policies and procedures and correct any financial institution policies or procedures that may have contributed to the discrimination;
Train financial institution employees involved;
Establish community outreach programs and change marketing strategy or loan products to better serve all sectors of the financial institution's service area;
Monitor compliance and provide periodic reports to the primary federal regulator.
Retrospective relief may include:
Identifying customers who may have been subject to discrimination and offering to extend credit if the customers were improperly denied;
Requiring the financial institution to make payments to injured parties;
Restitution: This may include any out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the violation to make the victim of discrimination whole, such as: fees or expenses in connection with the application; the difference between any greater fees or expenses of another loan granted elsewhere after denial by the discriminating lender; and, when loans were granted on disparate terms, appropriate modification of those terms and refunds of any greater amounts paid.
Other Affirmative Action As Appropriate to Correct Conditions Resulting From Discrimination. The federal banking agencies also have the authority to require a financial institution to take affirmative action to correct or remedy any conditions resulting from any violation or practice. The banking agencies will determine whether such affirmative action is appropriate in a given case and, if such action is appropriate, the type of remedy to order.
Requiring the financial institution to pay CMPs:
The banking agencies have the authority to assess CMPs against financial institutions or individuals for violating fair lending laws or regulations. Each agency has the authority to assess CMPs of up to $5,000 per day for any violation of law, rule or regulation. Penalties of up to $25,000 per day are also permitted, but only if the violations represent a pattern of misconduct, cause more than minimal loss to the financial institution, or result in gain or benefit to the party involved. CMPs are paid to the U.S. Treasury and therefore do not compensate victims of discrimination.
National Credit Union Administration
For federal credit unions, NCUA will employ criteria comparable to those of the federal banking agencies, pursuant to its authority under 12 U.S.C. 1786.
The Department of Justice
The Department of Justice is authorized to use the full range of its enforcement authority under the FH Act and the ECOA. DOJ has authority to commence pattern or practice investigations of possible lending discrimination on its own initiative or through referrals from the federal financial institutions regulatory agencies, and to file lawsuits in federal court where there is reasonable cause to believe that such violations have occurred. DOJ is also authorized under the FH Act to bring suit based on individual complaints filed with HUD where one of the parties to the complaint elects to have the case heard in federal court.
The relief sought by DOJ in lending discrimination lawsuits may include:
An injunction which may require both prospective and retrospective relief; and,
In enforcement actions under the FH Act, CMPs not to exceed $50,000 per defendant for a first violation and $100,000 for any subsequent violation.
Prospective injunctive relief may include:
A permanent injunction to insure against a recurrence of the unlawful practices;
Affirmative measures to correct past discriminatory policies, procedures, or practices, so long as consistent with safety and soundness, such as:
Expansion of the lender's service areas to include previously excluded minority neighborhoods;
Opening branches or other credit facilities in under-served minority neighborhoods;
Targeted sales calls on real estate agents and builders active in minority neighborhoods;
Advertising through minority-oriented media;
Changes to commission structures which tend to discourage lending in minority and low-income neighborhoods; and
Changes in loan processing and underwriting procedures (including second reviews of denied applications) to ensure equal treatment without regard to prohibited factors; and
Record keeping and reporting requirements to monitor compliance with remedial obligations.
Retrospective injunctive relief may include relief for victims of past discrimination, actual and punitive damages, and offers or adjustments of credit or other forms of loan commitments.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is fully authorized to investigate complaints alleging discrimination in lending in violation of the FH Act and has the authority to initiate complaints and investigations even when an individual complaint has not been received. HUD issues determinations on whether or not reasonable cause exists to believe that the FH Act has been violated. HUD also may authorize actions for temporary and preliminary injunctions to be brought by DOJ and has authority to issue enforceable subpoenas for information related to investigations.
Following issuance of a determination of reasonable cause under the FH Act, HUD enforces the FH Act administratively unless one of the parties elects to have the case heard in federal court in a case brought by DOJ.
Relief under the FH Act that may be awarded by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") after a hearing, or by the Secretary on review of a decision by an ALJ, includes:
Injunctive or other appropriate relief, including a variety of actions designed to correct discriminatory practices, such as changes in loan processes or procedures, modifications of loan service areas or branching actions, approval of previously denied loans to aggrieved persons, additional record-keeping and reporting on future activities or other affirmative relief;
Actual damages suffered by persons who are aggrieved by any violation of the FH Act, including damages for mental distress and out-of-pocket losses attributable to a violation; and
Civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each initial violation and up to $25,000 and $50,000 for successive violations within specific time frames.
HUD also is authorized to direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to undertake various remedial actions, including suspension, probation, reprimand, or settlement, against lenders found to have engaged in discriminatory lending practices in violation of the FH Act or the ECOA.
The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight
The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight is authorized to use its enforcement authority under 12 U.S.C. 4631 and 4636, including cease and desist orders and CMPs for violations by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of the fair housing regulations promulgated by the Secretary of HUD pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 4545.
The Federal Housing Finance Board
While the Federal Housing Finance Board does not have enforement authority under the ECOA or the FH Act, in reviewing the members of the Federal Home Loan Bank System for community support, it may restrict access to long-term System advances to any member that, within two years prior to the due date of submission of a Community Support Statement, had a final administrative or judicial ruling against it based on violations of those statutes (or any similar state or local law prohibiting discrimination in lending). System members in this situation are asked to submit to the Finance Board an explanation of steps take to remedy the violation or prevent a recurrence. See 12 U.S.C. 1430(g); 12 CFR 936.3(b)(5).
The Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the requirements of the ECOA and Regulation B for all lenders subject to the ECOA, except where enforcement is specifically committed to another agency. The FTC may exercise all of its functions and powers under the Federal Trade Commission Act ("FTC Act") to enforce the ECOA, and a violation of any requirement under the ECOA is deemed to be a violation of a requirement under the FTC Act. The FTC has the power to enforce Regulation B in the same manner as if a violation of Regulation B were a violation of an FTC trade regulation rule.
This means that the FTC has the power to investigate lenders suspected of lending discrimination and to use compulsory process in doing so. The Commission, though DOJ or on its own behalf where the Justice Department declines to act, may file suit in federal court against suspected violators and seek relief including:
Injunctions against the violative practice;
Civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation; and
Redress to affected consumers.
In addition, the Commission routinely imposes recordkeeping and reporting requirements to monitor compliance.
Q13: Will a financial institution be subjected to multiple actions by DOJ or HUD and its primary regulator if discriminatory practices are discovered?
A: In all cases where referrals to other agencies are made, the appropriate federal financial institutions regulatory agency will engage in ongoing consultations with DOJ or HUD regarding coordination of each agency's actions. The Agencies will coordinate their enforcement actions and make every effort to eliminate unnecessarily duplicative actions. Where both a federal financial institutions regulatory agency and either DOJ or HUD are contemplating taking actions under their own respective authorities, the Agencies will seek to coordinate their actions to ensure that each agency's action is consistent and complementary. The financial institutions regulatory agencies also will discuss referrals on a case-by-case basis with DOJ or HUD to determine whether multiple actions are necessary and appropriate.
[Source: 59 Fed. Reg. 18267, April 15, 1994]