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Equal Credit Opportunity Act
This act applies to banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, finance companies, department stores, credit card issuers, car and appliance dealers and all others who regularly grant credit. The Act does not guarantee credit. You must still pass the creditor's tests of creditworthiness, but the tests must be applied impartially, and without discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, receipt of public assistance or because you exercise your rights under federal laws.
 
If you are denied credit, ask the creditor why. The creditor may think you have not lived or worked in the community long enough. The creditor may tell you ways to improve your chances of getting credit.
 
The best way to determine if a creditor may be discriminating against you on an illegal basis is to look at the questions in the credit application.
 
Generally, creditors may not question you about an area where discrimination is prohibited. Exceptions: a creditor may ask for information about your spouse if your spouse will be permitted to use the credit, will be obligated to pay the debt or has a legal interest in the property used as collateral. A creditor may also ask your age, but if you're 18 years or older, a creditor may not turn you down or decrease your credit just because of your age. But, a creditor may ask you when you plan to retire or how long your income will continue. You may not be denied credit just because you receive Social Security or Public Assistance. But information related to these sources of income could affect your ability to get credit. So, a creditor may ask your dependents' ages since you may lose benefits when they reach a certain age.
 
Men and women are protected from discrimination based on sex and marital status. For example, you may not be denied credit just because you are a woman, whatever your marital status.
 
Generally, creditors may not ask your sex except on an application for a loan to buy or build a house. The federal government monitors data such as race and sex on housing loans. You need not use Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms. with your name on an application. You may not be denied credit because of plans to have children. Creditors may not consider whether you have a telephone listing in your own name. They may ask if there is a phone in your home.
 
Creditors must consider your income, even from part-time employment. Creditors may also consider whether income is steady and reliable. A creditor may require that your income be uninterrupted, particularly alimony, or part-time wages.
 
If you are married and can qualify for credit in your own name, a creditor may not demand that your spouse co-sign for your individual request for credit. However, if you use jointly-owned assets to secure the credit, the creditor may require your spouse to sign documents allowing the creditor to get the property if you default. In most cases, the creditor should not demand that your spouse become personally liable; a security agreement will suffice.
 
Creditors may not ask for information about your spouse or former spouse when you apply for credit based only on your own income, unless you wish to include alimony, child support, or separate maintenance from your spouse or former spouse as income in the application for credit. But, if your spouse will use your account or be responsible for your debts, the creditor may ask about your spouse.
 
Creditors may not require you to reapply for credit just because you marry or become widowed or divorced. Nor may they close your account or change the terms of your account on these grounds. However, creditors may ask you to reapply if you relied on your former spouse's income to obtain revolving credit.
Setting up your own account protects you by giving you your own credit history if circumstances change because of widowhood or divorce. If you get married and take your husband's name, let your creditors know if you want to keep a separate account.
 
Creditors must tell you about action taken on your application within 30 days of receiving a completed application, and give specific reasons why credit is denied. If it has been approved, notice must come within 30 days, and can occur by sending you the credit card, or money, or approving your loan.
Sometimes the creditor offers terms other than those requested in your application. If so, you may be given the opportunity to accept this "counter-offer" within a set period of time.
 
If your application is denied, the notification must state four things besides the creditor name and address: 1) what action was taken, 2) notice of what discrimination is under the Act, 3) the name and address of the federal agency with enforcement authority over the transaction; and 4) specific reasons why credit was denied, or a notice that this information is available.
 
If you feel you have been illegally discriminated against, contact your attorney or the federal agency which regulates the creditor involved. You may call the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs to find out the proper agency. Call 803-734-9453 or write the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, Post Office Box 5757, Columbia, SC 29250-5757.

This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.