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What Is the Truth in Lending Act (TILA)?

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There has always been a lot of lending in the United States. There hasn’t always been a lot of truth.

Lenders could obscure information on interest rates, finance charges and other items of interest. Consumers were often unaware of what they’d signed up for when they got a mortgage or a credit card.

Congress tried to stop the runaround in 1968 when it passed the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), which required lenders to disclose loan particulars in simpler, standardized terms.

The goal was to make sure consumers had a clear understanding of the conditions they’d agreed to. TILA has helped, but the battle for truth in lending is never over.

How Does the Truth in Lending Act Work?

Lenders have to provide borrowers a Truth in Lending disclosure statement. It has handy information like the loan amount, the annual percentage rate (APR), finance charges, late fees, prepayment penalties, payment schedule and the total amount you’ll pay.

The law also established a “right of recession” for certain types of home loans. It’s basically a cooling-off period that gives consumers three days to cancel their loans without any financial penalty.

TILA does not require institutions to loan money to specific applicants or regulate the interest rates they can charge. It just requires banks, credit unions and other lenders to clearly lay out what the terms of the loan will be.

Applying the Truth in Lending Act

The law covers most forms of consumer loans, whether they are closed-end or open-end credit. Closed-end loans mean you get a set amount of money when the loan closes and have to pay it back (with interest, of course). Think mortgages or auto loans.

Open-end is money you can draw repeatedly, up to a pre-approved amount. Think credit cards and lines of credit.

Though TILA does not regulate interest rates, it does prohibit lenders from imposing excessive penalties if a borrower is late making a payment.

These loans are covered under TILA:

These loans are not covered:

What Is Regulation Z?

Regulation Z prohibits certain loan practices, like steering customers to inferior loans because the lender would make more money from it. The term “Regulation Z” came out of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) and is used often interchangeably with “TILA.”

Both have been amended on a regular basis since 1968 as the lending and credit-card industries evolved. A major change gave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rulemaking authority.

The CFPB gradually expanded its role, issuing rules for ability-to-repay requirements for mortgages, refined loan originator compensation rules and other things that only a federal bureaucrat could find interesting.

TILA and the CARD Act

The CARD stands for Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act. Let it never be said federal bureaucrats can’t come up with catchy acronyms.

The bill was passed in 2009 and strengthened consumer protections in lending.

The highlighted changes from that amendment include:

  • New account or increasing the credit limit on an existing one without first considering the consumer’s ability to pay.
  • Credit card issuers are required to give consumers at least a 45-day notice before charging a higher interest rate and at least a 21-day “grace period” between receiving a monthly statement and a due date for payment.
  • Card companies are required to disclose on statements that consumers who make only minimum payments will pay higher interest and take longer to pay off the balance.
  • Fees for using mail, phone or electronic payment methods are eliminated, except when using an expedited service.
  • Companies are prohibited from charging fees for over-the-limit transactions, unless the cardholder opts into this form of protection.
  • Card companies are prohibited from offering gift cards, T-shirts, or other tangible items as marketing incentives for signing up for a card.

A 2015 study by the CFPB found that the CARD Act helped reduce over-the-limit fees by $9 billion and late fees by $7 billion.

Other Acts Related to TILA

The lending business is always evolving. TILA has added the following acts to protect consumers:

  • Fair Credit Billing Act: Passed in 1975, this act allowed consumers to address errors in open-end credit accounts. Borrowers could dispute things like math errors, unauthorized charges and incorrect dates. Lenders were required to respond within certain time frames.
  • Fair Credit and Charge Card Disclosure Act: Passed in 1988, this act expanded disclosure requirements on new credit cards. Issuers have to include information on cash advances, annual fees and other provisions that consumers might overlook. Such information must also be part of any “pre-approved” offers, either by direct mail, telephone or other solicitations.
  • Home Equity Loan Consumer Protection Act: The HELPA passed in 1988 and requires lenders to disclose terms of home equity loans before they are finalized. If the terms change before the first transaction, borrowers can refuse the loan and get their application fees refunded.
  • Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act: The HOEPA passed in 1994 and strengthened protections for financially strapped borrowers. They were often targeted for predatory lending practices, such as frequently refinancing a home loan to charge fees. The act requires lenders to consider an applicant’s ability to repay the loan with interest. If the math says you can’t repay it, they can’t offer it.

» Learn more: Credit Protection Laws

Benefits of the Truth in Lending Act

Sir Francis Bacon didn’t have a credit card when he coined the phrase “Knowledge is Power” in 1597, but the English statesmen’s words certainly apply here.

TILA gives consumers knowledge about borrowing and empowers them to deal with lenders. Among the benefits:

  • Protection from excessive penalties.
  • Transparency in terms and fees associated with loans.
  • Consumers can compare loan and credit offers.
  • Expanded time to repay loans.
  • Protection from predatory lending practices.
  • Options to cancel loan contracts within certain time limits.

Effectiveness of TILA

There is no question that it’s a lot easier for borrowers to avoid getting the runaround than it was in 1968. There’s also no question TILA has been far from a magic bullet that eliminated all lending monkey business.

As soon as a rule passed, lenders tried to find ways around it. That’s led to more rules, bureaucratic expansion, and a process that gets more unwieldy by the day.

The mountain of oversight and regulations did not prevent the subprime mortgage fiasco of 2008. There will always be lenders looking to game the system to their advantage.

Expect more amendments, rules and acronyms until consumers stop needing to borrow money, which will never happen. Agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will play the role of watchdog, but it’s ultimately up to consumers to understand the ins and outs of loans and credit cards.

Understanding Your Rights

Understanding those ins and outs can be a pain, but consumers don’t have to go it alone. Government programs, nonprofits and credit counseling agencies are by your side.

If the governmental gobbledygook has you confused, credit counseling from a nonprofit agency can help you understand the lending process and rights that TILA provides.

Truth in Lending Act Frequently Asked Question

It protects borrowers from unfair lending practices. It requires lenders to disclose information about all charges and fees associated with a loan.

It regulates most forms of consumer credit. It forbids lenders from being deceptive with loans for mortgages, cars, credit cards.

Consumers have three days to cancel a loan. Also, lenders can’t steer consumers into loans that mean more compensation for the lender, unless that loan is in the consumer’s best interest.

It is written information on credit terms, like interest rates.

It is information about fees associated with loans.

A creditor misleads a consumer on interest rates or fees associated with a loan.

Lenders must disclose the total monetary amount of payments, amount financed, finance charges and borrowing costs.

Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and maybe a lawyer.

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].


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