CFPB: ECOA protection extends past application process
On May 9, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion to affirm its interpretation that ECOA bars lenders from discriminating against customers after they have applied for and received credit, not just during the application process. The Bureau’s opinion and analysis interprets ECOA and its implementing rule, Regulation B, as applying to the “approval, denial, renewal, continuation, or revocation of any open-end consumer credit account,” and is consistent with the agency’s joint amicus brief filed last December with the DOJ, Federal Reserve Board, and FTC, which argued that the term “applicant” as used in ECOA/Regulation B, includes both those seeking credit, as well as persons who have sought and have received credit (i.e., current borrowers). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) This has been the agency’s “longstanding position,” the Bureau stressed, noting it was the view of federal agencies prior to the Bureau’s creation as well.
However, “[d]espite this well-established interpretation, the Bureau is aware that some creditors fail to acknowledge that ECOA and Regulation B plainly apply to circumstances that take place after an extension of credit has been granted, including a revocation of credit or an unfavorable change in the terms of a credit arrangement,” the advisory opinion stated, explaining that ECOA prohibits creditors from lowering a borrower’s available line of credit or subjecting a borrower to more aggressive collections practices on a prohibited basis, such as race or national origin. “In addition, the Bureau is aware that some creditors fail to provide applicants with required notifications that include a statement of the specific reasons for the adverse action taken or disclose an applicant’s right to such a statement.” Creditors are required to provide “adverse action notices” when denying a loan, the Bureau wrote, adding that these notices are required when the terms of an existing loan are modified or terminated. “This interpretation of ECOA, therefore, forecloses a potential loophole that could effectively swallow much of the Act. Such a loophole would be plainly inconsistent with ECOA,” the advisory opinion stressed. While the Bureau acknowledged that “a few other district court decisions have interpreted ‘applicant’ to include only persons actively seeking credit,” the agency stressed that the district courts “read ‘applicant’ in isolation instead of reading this statutory term in context, as required by the Supreme Court,” and that “no court of appeals has endorsed these district courts’ narrow reading.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Advisory Opinions Policy in 2020. Under the policy, entities seeking to comply with existing regulatory requirements are permitted to request an advisory opinion in the form of an interpretive rule from the Bureau (published in the Federal Register for increased transparency) to address areas of uncertainty.