Consumers in general are not a protected class. Certain age groups or gender identities, for example, are considered protected classes. Yet anti-discrimination laws apply to general consumers in certain situations.
For example, creditors can't decline you as a qualified mortgage applicant solely based on skin color. That would mean you were being discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin.
Similarly, a department store issuing credit can't charge you a higher interest rate because of a foreign accent. These discriminatory practices unfairly penalize consumers for being in a protected class.
Anti-discrimination laws on the books prohibit discrimination concerning:
- Employment practices
- Public accommodations
- Education programs
- Health care
- Other areas
Laws protect citizens, including employees and job applicants, from sexual harassment, too.
This article covers the basics of discrimination concerning consumers. It includes information on how to file complaints with the appropriate federal government agency.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act: Overview
Lenders may consider several factors when deciding whether to extend credit.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits credit decisions based on these characteristics:
- Sex (including sexual orientation, transgender status, gender identity, and gender expression)
- Marital status
- National origin
For example, a credit provider can't charge a higher interest rate to a couple solely because they are both men.
There are instances in which a creditor can ask you to volunteer information. That may include details like race and gender. Federal agencies use this information to help enforce anti-discrimination laws.
Complaints of discrimination are taken seriously. They are treated similarly to discrimination complaints filed under the federally created Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That law is the main civil rights law ensuring nondiscrimination. It protects against intentional discrimination and practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals.
Prohibited Acts Under the ECOA
The ECOA prohibits discrimination in several different scenarios. That includes the application process and choices by a lender.
It also includes evaluating your income and reasons for denying credit.
Examples of acts that violate the ECOA include:
- A creditor asking whether you're widowed or divorced or asking questions about your non-applicant spouse
- A creditor considering the racial makeup of the neighborhood where you plan to buy a home when deciding whether to extend credit
- A creditor assuming that a female applicant of childbearing age will stop working to raise children in the near future
The ECOA also guarantees certain rights, including:
- The right to know why your credit application was rejected
- The right to have credit in your birth name if you desire
- The right to know whether your application was accepted within 30 days of applying
One of the intentions of the ECOA is to promote equal access to credit. You have the right to an equal opportunity to apply for credit.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) overlaps with the ECOA in some respects, barring discrimination on the basis of:
- National origin
The act covers residential real estate transactions. This includes loans for purchasing, improving, or maintaining your home when you use your home as collateral. The law applies to virtually all mortgages.
Unlike the ECOA, the FHA prohibits discrimination based on disability and familial status. The ECOA covers marital status.
The FHA is administered by the federal government. More specifically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws.
Click on any of the links below to learn more about how consumers are protected against discriminatory acts.
Learn About Consumer Discrimination
Consumer Discrimination Articles
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