The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 published a final rule that amends Regulation B, the implementing regulation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. 68 Fed. Reg. 13144 (2003). The most notable amendment permits creditors to inquire about the race, religion, national origin or sex of non-mortgage credit applicants for the purpose of conducting a self test under Section 202.15 of Regulation B, provided certain specified disclosures are made. The information will be privileged if the creditor takes all necessary action to preserve the privilege. The final rule is effective April 15, 2003, but compliance is not mandatory until April 15, 2004.

    Earlier proposed versions of this rule came under fire from industry commenters who believed the rule, in effect, would become mandatory, as supervised financial institutions would face pressure to collect this information. Further, despite the privilege, concerns were raised that the information collected likely would be sought by enforcement agencies and consumer activists alleging discrimination.

    Creditors planning to make inquiries about non-mortgage credit applicants’ personal characteristics should begin developing policies and procedures now to address the rule and to ensure the information will remain privileged.

    Judy Scheiderer and Tiffany Scurti-Swain