Credit scores, lending, and psychosocial disability

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  • Abstract:

    Credit scores have become a near-universal financial passport for Americans to meet common personal needs including employment, loans, insurance, and home and car purchases or leases. At the same time, Elizabeth Warren and others have documented the horrific economic, emotional, and health consequences of low creditworthiness for score-bearers and their families. Individuals with psychosocial disabilities (previously called mental disabilities or mental illnesses) can make disastrously poor financial decisions during the active phases of their conditions; during inactive phases they are as capable as others of making sound or poor financial decisions. Yet, in computing credit scores and selling credit reports, national and transnational credit-reporting agencies (like Equifax) do not account for the implications of psychosocial disability. Worse, evidence shows that businesses rely on these reports to predatorily target borrowers with psychosocial disabilities—and especially those who are also women and racial minorities—in deciding terms of lending, employment, and housing. In theory but not in practice, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act each prohibit discriminatory financial decisions arising from disability status, while also requiring reasonable accommodations to equalize opportunities for disabled persons. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which the United States has signed) further mandates enabling the financial decision making of these individuals, but does not provide guidance on achieving this obligation. Further, despite the crucial and direct implications this situation also raises for vast numbers of Americans without psychosocial disabilities who likewise make poor credit decisions, it has not undergone legal analysis. We engage this significant gap by suggesting schemes drawn from historical and comparative contexts that could enable the creditworthiness of persons with psychosocial disabilities, and then critiquing the costs and benefits of each. In doing so, we proffer the first analysis of this issue in the legal literature and seek to stimulate future dialogue among academics and policymakers. The Article concludes with thoughts on the implications of its analyses for the broader issue of credit scoring.