Know Your Rights: What Mortgage Lenders Can't Ask You

Published on September 14, 2023 | 11 Minute read



Ortiz Reyes

Content Specialist

Lenders have the right to evaluate your financial situation, which is crucial in helping you achieve your homeownership goals. Still, there are specific questions and topics that they are legally prohibited from discussing or asking you during the application process. It's important to be aware of your rights as a borrower when you're in the process of securing a mortgage.


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Personal Information and Background

Federal and state laws prohibit lenders from asking for personal information to determine your eligibility for a mortgage. The following questions are not relevant to the lending process:

Race or Ethnicity

  • "What is your ethnic background?"
  • "Are you part of a particular race?"

National Origin

  • "What nationality are you?"
  • "Where were you or your parents born?"

Cultural Assumptions

  • "Based on your name, are you from a specific ethnic group?"
  • "Based on your appearance, are you from a specific racial group?"


  • "What is the language you speak at home?"
  • "Do you speak a particular language due to your ethnic background?"


  • "What is your religious affiliation?"
  • "Do you practice a particular religion based on your ethnicity?"

It's important to note that mortgage lenders may ask about your place of birth during the application process, but the intent behind such a question is typically related to verifying your identity and ensuring compliance with federal regulations. This helps confirm that you are who you claim to be and that no identity-related issues could affect the mortgage application.




Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation

Lenders cannot discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws like the Fair Housing Act protect individuals from such bias during the mortgage application and approval process. Here are examples of questions relating to gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation that mortgage lenders cannot ask:

Gender and Gender Identity

  • "What is your gender?"
  • "Are you male or female?"
  • "Do you identify as transgender or non-binary?"

Sexual Orientation

  • "What is your sexual orientation?"
  • "What is your co-signer's sexual orientation?"
  • "Is your spouse of the same or opposite gender?"

Mortgage lenders should base their lending decisions on objective financial criteria, such as credit history, income, employment status, and debt-to-income ratio. Questions about personal characteristics, gender identity, or sexual orientation are considered invasive and unrelated to a borrower's creditworthiness.





Questions about your age are generally prohibited. Lenders should evaluate your creditworthiness based on your financial history and ability to repay the loan, not your age. Here are some examples of questions they can't ask:


  • "How old are you?"
  • "When were you born?"

Marital and Family Status

  • "Is your spouse younger or older than you?"
  • "Do you have any dependants of a certain age?"

Retirement Status and Longevity

  • "Are you retired?"
  • "Are you retiring soon? 
  • "Do you expect to live in the house for an extended period due to your age?"

Though they can't discriminate, lenders do take into account some age-related factors for applicants 62 and older. For example, lenders can look at age to consider your job and length of time to retirement to determine whether your income, including your retirement income, will be sufficient for the life of the loan.


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Marital Status or Family Status

Whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, is off-limits for lenders. They also cannot inquire about your family status, including whether you have children, are planning to have children, or are pregnant. 

Asking these questions might be a way for the lender to know whether or not there will be another mouth to feed, along with the associated expenses of raising a child that may be on the way. This is illegal. Some questions they shouldn't ask are:

Marital Status and Family Structure

  • "Are you part of a single-parent or two-parent household?"
  • "Are you planning on getting married or divorced soon?"
  • "Are you planning on having more children in the future?"
  • "How do you plan to handle childcare expenses?"

Mortgage lenders may ask specific questions related to marital status, family status, family structure, and children when it is necessary to evaluate the borrower's financial qualifications or to determine the borrower's eligibility for specific loan programs or benefits. These questions should be framed in a way that complies with fair lending laws and focuses on financial factors rather than personal characteristics. Here's why they may ask questions relating to these topics:

  • Alimony - Lenders may ask about spousal support or alimony payments as part of the borrower's financial obligations.
  • Child Support - Lenders may inquire about child support payments when assessing the borrower's income, expenses, and debt-to-income ratio. Child support payments received or paid can be included in the financial analysis.
  • Co-signers - If co-signers are on the loan application, lenders may ask about the relationship between the borrowers or co-signers, including marital status or familial relationships.
  • Occupancy - Lenders may inquire about the intended occupancy of the property (primary residence, second home, or investment property) to determine eligibility for certain loan programs and interest rates. This can indirectly relate to family status.


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Illness or Disability

Lenders are prohibited from requesting information about an applicant's disability or health-related conditions. However, they may inquire about your ability to meet the financial obligations of the loan. Any questions related to your health should focus on your financial stability rather than your medical history. Here are some questions they shouldn't ask:

Health Status

  • "Are you in good health?"
  • "Do you have any medical conditions?"

Medical History

  • "Are you taking prescription medications?"
  • "Have you ever had a serious illness or surgery?”

Disability Status

  • "Do you have any disabilities?"
  • "What type of disability do you have?"

Mental Health

  • "Do you have any mental health issues?"
  • "Are you receiving treatment for any mental health condition?"

There are limited exceptions in specific circumstances where lenders may inquire about health or disability-related information. Still, these exceptions are generally tied to program-specific requirements and must be handled with sensitivity and in compliance with applicable laws. Here are a few exceptions and contexts in which health and disability-related questions may arise:

  • Government Assistance Programs - Some government assistance programs may have eligibility criteria that involve health or disability-related factors. In such cases, lenders may need to ask limited questions about eligibility for these programs.
  • Reasonable Accommodations - Borrowers with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to the mortgage application process. Lenders must consider and accommodate such requests under the Fair Housing Act.
  • Disability Income - Lenders may inquire about disability income or other forms of income received by the borrower if it is necessary to evaluate the borrower's ability to meet the mortgage payment requirements. 

It's important to note that even in these limited circumstances, lenders must handle health or disability-related information with strict confidentiality and sensitivity. Remember, the focus should solely be on your ability to repay the loan, not your physical or mental health status.


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Source of Income

Mortgage lenders are generally allowed to ask questions related to a borrower's source of income during the mortgage application process because this information is crucial for assessing the borrower's ability to repay the loan. However, lenders must handle income-related inquiries in a non-discriminatory manner. This includes not asking questions that suggest bias against certain income sources. Here are some examples of intrusive or discriminatory questions:

Income Source and Family Status

  • "Are you receiving government assistance?"
  • "Are you divorced or separated and receiving alimony or child support?"

Non-Wage Income

  • "Why are you receiving alimony?
  • "What is the nature of your disability?"

Lenders should focus on gathering information related to the borrower's income and financial qualifications for the loan, but any questions that delve into the personal or discriminatory aspects of income sources should be avoided.


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Citizenship or Immigration Status
Lenders are not permitted to question your citizenship or immigration status except when it directly affects the borrower's eligibility for certain government-supported loans or specific loan programs. Here are some questions lenders can ask:
  • Citizenship Status - Lenders can ask whether you are a U.S. or non-U.S. citizen.
  • Immigration Status - Lenders can ask about your immigration status, including whether you are a lawful permanent resident, a visa holder, or an undocumented immigrant.
  • Permanent Residency - Lenders can inquire about your status as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) if it is relevant to the loan application, such as eligibility for certain loan programs.

Lenders cannot ask the following questions:

Visa Type

  • "What type of visa do you hold?"

Naturalization Status

  • "Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?"

Questions With Discriminatory Intent

  • "Where were you born, and what is your citizenship status?"


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Account Passwords

While lenders have the right to request financial documentation, they must do so in a manner that respects the borrower's privacy and complies with financial regulations. Here are examples of questions and requests that lenders cannot make:

Account Passwords or PINs

  • "What is your ATM PIN?"
  • "Please provide your bank account password."
  • "Grant us access to your online banking to review your accounts."

Exact Account Balances

  • "What is the exact balance in your checking account?"

Transaction History Details

  • "Please explain each transaction on your bank statement for the past year."

Blank Checks

  • "Send us a signed blank check for verification purposes."

Borrowers should provide the necessary financial documentation, such as bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns, but they should not share sensitive information like account passwords or PINs.


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Criminal History

Lenders can conduct background checks for credit and financial history, which may uncover criminal history. However, they cannot ask about your criminal history during the application process. Here are some examples:

Arrest Records

  • "Have you ever been arrested?"

Specific Details of Criminal History

  • "Why were you convicted?"
  • "What was the nature of your criminal conviction?"

Expunged Records

  • "Have you ever had a criminal record, even if it's been expunged?"

Questions With Discriminatory Intent

  • "Have you been convicted of a crime because you belong to a particular ethnic group?"

Some criminal convictions may impact loan approval for specific types of loans, such as those related to financial services or bonding requirements. However, lenders are required to follow federal and state laws governing the consideration of criminal records.




Steps to Take if This Happens to You

If you believe you've experienced discrimination by a mortgage lender during the application process, take action to protect your rights and address the issue. Here are steps to consider if you feel discriminated against by a mortgage lender:

  • Document Discrimination - Start by documenting any discriminatory incidents or practices. This includes noting the date, time, location, and names of individuals involved. Keep records of emails, letters, and any communication related to your mortgage application.
  • Contact the Lender - Reach out to the lender's customer service department to express your concerns. Sometimes, misunderstandings or errors can be resolved through open communication. Some agencies and organizations offer resolution services to help parties reach a mutually acceptable solution.
  • File a Complaint - Consider filing a complaint with the appropriate regulatory agencies. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are two key agencies that handle fair lending complaints.
  • Consult an Attorney - If the discrimination issue remains unresolved, consult with an attorney specializing in fair lending and discrimination cases. Legal professionals can guide you and help you take necessary legal action.


Understanding your rights as a homebuyer is necessary to ensure a fair and respectful house-shopping experience. Lenders are bound by federal and state laws that protect you from discrimination. By knowing what lenders can't ask you during the house hunting process, you can confidently navigate the mortgage application process and make informed decisions on your path to homeownership. Remember that lenders must focus only on your financial history, creditworthiness, and ability to repay the loan.


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