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Report: Lenders Use Educational Data to Discriminate

February 6, 2020

Financial companies often use data on borrowers' higher education to determine access to credit and the price of consumer financial products. And those education data can lead to redlining, a form of discrimination against borrowers who attended community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, or Hispanic-serving institutions.

That was the key finding of a new report from the Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit group led by Seth Frotman, the former student loan ombudsman for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

For example, the group said, borrowers who take out student loans may pay a penalty for attending a community college.

"Wells Fargo charges a hypothetical community college borrower an additional $1,134 on a $10,000 loan when compared to a similarly situated borrower enrolled at a four-year college," according to the report.

Likewise, borrowers who refinance student loans with a company that uses education data may pay a penalty for having attended an HBCU. "When refinancing with Upstart, a hypothetical Howard University graduate is charged nearly $3,499 more over the life of a five-year loan than a similarly situated [New York University] graduate," the group said.

Upstart responded with a statement, saying the company conducts rigorous, regular fair-lending tests across millions of borrowers, in collaboration with the CFPB.

"According to the CFPB, Upstart’s AI model increases access to credit across all tested race, ethnicity and gender segments by 23-29 percent while also decreasing average rates by 15-17 percent," Upstart said. "Too many people are unfairly disadvantaged by traditional lending models primarily based on credit score and income, and solving that requires considering more data."

The report called on federal and state regulators to enhance oversight of the financial sector's use of education data.

"The use of education data in underwriting could charge borrowers more for a loan simply for choosing the most accessible path for pursuing the American Dream," the center said. "Is this what is meant by a mission of ‘innovation’? Access to credit should not simply mean ‘more people getting more loans.’ It is imperative to examine the variance in the cost of those loans. Otherwise, expanded access to credit will not expand equity."


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