Consumer credit laws were designed to provide protection in a variety of ways that affect consumers fair access to credit. This can refer to the consumer’s right to understand the credit and loan terms prior to agreeing to them, every consumer’s fair and equal access to credit, limitations on loan and credit interest and terms, and so on. Even a basic understanding of these important laws and Acts can help individuals understand their rights.
Understanding consumer credit rights is the first step to ensuring that you’re being treated fairly by creditors. These credit laws also provide consumers with avenues to have their concerns addressed. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, is charged with overseeing some of these consumer credit laws.
Outlined below are several laws of particular importance for consumers. In today’s economic climate, many consumers are particularly concerned with repairing bad credit reports and scores, and for this reason, the laws of particular importance to those individuals interested in credit repair efforts are placed in their own category.
Consumer Credit Laws
Laws of special importance to credit repair services and a general overview are provided below.
The Credit Repair Organizations Act was designed to ensure that those seeking credit repair services from credit repair organizations are provided with the information necessary to make an informed decision. It aims to ensure that consumers are protected from deceptive or unfair advertising and unscrupulous business practices.
Examples of unscrupulous practices include suggestions that a consumer change their identity or that a consumer lie about their past credit history to potential creditors.
Credit Repair Organizations that violate the law can be sued for damages and attorney’s fees. Violations of the Act can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission and/or your local state attorney general. A consumer has 5 years to take action against an organization once they have learned of a violation to the Act.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits the denial of credit because of sex, marital status, race, religion, national origin, age or because a person receives public assistance. This law offers protections to consumers when they deal with any people or organizations who participates in the decision to grant credit or in setting the terms of that credit. This includes banks, credit unions, credit card companies, loan and finance companies, retail stores, and real estate brokers.
The law ensures that consumers have the right to know whether their applications for credit were accepted or rejected within 30 days of filing a complete application and to know the reasons why an application was rejected. It also protects the rights of consumers to know the reason(s) why they have been offered less favorable terms than requested, but only if that consumer rejects the less favorable terms being offered.
A number of federal agencies are charged with the enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, including Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Credit Union Administration, to name a few. Where a consumer directs complaints depends on the complaint itself. A starting point for consumers is to visit the Federal Reserve website or call 1-888-851-1920.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives any individual the right to know what information is being distributed about them by any credit reporting agency. It regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer credit information. The FCRA was passed in 1970, and along with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), it constitutes the core of credit law in the US.
Critical to the Fair Credit Reporting Act are the rules and responsibilities outlined that Credit Reporting Agencies must follow. Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) are the entities that collect and store credit information on every US consumer. The FCRA also provides regulations that those who provide the CRAs with information must follow. Examples of these information furnishers are creditors such as credit card companies, mortgage companies, and automobile financing companies. Other information furnishers include employers, bonders, and courts that enact judgments against individuals, such as bankruptcies.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. The FCRA is arguably the most powerful piece of legislation used by credit repair companies who seek to have out of date and/or incorrect information removed from a consumer’s credit report.
Notices of Rights and Duties under the FCRA (July 1, 1997) were published by the Federal Trade Commission as amendments for the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Notices must be distributed by Credit Reporting Agencies and include a summary of consumer rights under the FCRA; a notice that sets forth the responsibilities under the FCRA of those who furnish consumer information to consumer reporting agencies; and a notice that outlines the obligations for any person who uses information covered by the FCRA.
These Notices were designed to enhance the Fair Credit Reporting Act in an effort to promote accuracy, fairness, and the privacy of information in the credit files created by all credit reporting agencies.
The Federal Trade Commission oversees the proper implementation of the FCRA and the Notices of Rights and Duties.
The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) is a US federal law that was enacted in 1968 and is contained in Title I of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. It’s intent is to protect consumers by requiring that any lender, prior to entering into a credit transaction, provide written disclosures of the costs of credit and the terms of repayment.
Excluding some high-cost mortgage loans, the TILA doesn’t regulate the charges that may be established for consumer credit. What the Act requires is standardized disclosure of costs and charges for credit. This protects consumers by helping them shop and compare the costs and terms of credit and make informed decisions about where and from whom they access credit.
Other benefits to consumers include the right to cancel particular credit transactions that involve a lien on a person’s primary dwelling and the regulation of credit card practices. It also includes mechanisms to protect a consumer’s timely resolution of credit billing disputes.
The Truth in Lending Act is enforced by the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and several other agencies. Those creditors that are not under the jurisdiction of any specific enforcement agency answer to the Federal Trade Commission.
Other Consumer Credit Rules and Acts
The Consumer Leasing Act is a federal law that requires leasing companies to inform a consumer in writing about the details involved in a contract. It outlines requirements regarding the cost and terms of any leasing agreement, including a statement of the number of lease payments and their dollar value, penalties for reneging on timely lease repayment, and whether a lump sum payment is due at the end of the lease agreement.
This Act helps consumers understand the important details of any lease agreement so that they can shop for the best leasing terms. It also helps a consumer compare the cost of leasing with actual purchase costs. In addition, it regulates lease advertising by penalizing unscrupulous or unfair advertising practices.
The Act applies to leases including personal property leased by an individual for the period of more than four months for personal or household use, long term rentals of items such as cars and appliances, and other personal property.
The Consumer Leasing Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) is a US federal law that was set forth as an amendment to the Truth in Lending Act. The Act outlines guidelines and procedures for resolving billing errors that may appear on credit card and charge card accounts, and protects consumers from unfair billing practices.
The procedures outlined in the FCBA include the proper dispute process for consumers. Consumers may send via mail a written dispute of perceived billing errors to their creditor within sixty days of the statement date on the account statement. The creditor is obliged to acknowledge and investigate the dispute, and within 90 days, make the requested correction or inform the consumer in writing that no correction with be made the reasons why.
Examples of billing errors covered by the Act include: charges not made by the consumer; incorrect charge amounts; charges for goods not received by the consumer; charges for goods not delivered under specified terms; charges for damaged goods; failure to update account payments made; calculation errors; charges a consumer either requests proof of or wants clarified; and payments mailed to the wrong address.
Overall enforcement of the Fair Credit Billing Act is the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission; however, enforcement for banks falls under the domain of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) sets out guidelines and procedures for collections companies that prevents debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills. Debt collectors regulated under this Act include collection agencies, lawyers who regularly collect debts, and companies that buy delinquent debts from others and endeavor to collect them.
The debts covered under the Act do not include debts incurred by businesses. They do include family, and household debts, such as money owed on credit card accounts, medical bills, auto loans, and mortgages.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charged with the enforcement of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) is an amendement to the Truth in Lending Act and was implemented by the Federal Reserve System in 1994. It was designed to protect consumers by restricting certain terms of high cost home loans in situations where the interest rate or fees are above specified levels.
This Act applies to the sub-prime mortgage market and home equity lending, and it has therefore been discussed at great length in recent times.
The Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act applies primarily to refinancing and home equity installment loans, provided that these loans meet certain criteria and fall under the definition of a high fee or high rate loan. The Act does not apply to reverse mortgages, loans to build or buy a home, or home equity lines of credit.
As with the Truth in Lending Act, enforcement of HOEPA falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission.
Credit law exists to protect consumers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Credit Repair Organizations Act are of particular importance to those who provide credit repair services and those seeking to repair bad credit reports on their own. Understanding these laws and where and how they are applied and enforced is critical for any consumer interested in protecting their rights in any credit or leasing arrangement.