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Highlights

The Federal Reserve Board's (FRB) Regulation B, which implements the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (ECOA), generally prohibits lenders from collecting certain data from loan applicants, such as their race or gender, for nonmortgage loans (e.g., small business loans). FRB has stated that this provision of Regulation B minimizes the chances that lenders would use such data in an unlawful and discriminatory manner. However, others argue that the prohibition limits the capacity of researchers and regulators to identify possible discrimination in nonmortgage lending. This report analyzes (1) studies on possible discrimination in nonmortgage lending and the data used in them, (2) FRB's 2003 decision to retain the prohibition of voluntary data collection, and (3) the benefits and costs of a data collection and reporting requirement. GAO conducted a literature review; reviewed FRB documents; analyzed issues involving the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), which requires lenders to collect and publicly report data on personal characteristics for mortgage loan applicants; and interviewed FRB and other regulatory officials, researchers, banks, and consumer groups. FRB did not take a position on this report's analysis. In addition to restating its rationale for retaining the prohibition of voluntary data collection, FRB summarized GAO's findings, including the potential benefits and costs of additional data for fair lending enforcement.

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