Winchester resident Dan J. Hammond said he was curious to see the credit report he paid a local savings and loan to compile when he was being considered for refinancing of his home this spring.
His request for a copy of the report was denied though, because lenders can keep such reports confidential if they end up granting the requested loan.
"I can't see where my financial history can be kept from me if I paid for it," said Hammond this week. "I thought everyone could see a credit report when they apply for a home loan."
The credit report, usually researched by an outside agency, is a compilation of the loan applicant's past debts, job stability, earning power and assets. It is used by banks and savings and loan associations to determine the risk of lending money to a particular applicant.
Although many loan applicants pay for the report, real estate attorneys say the federal Truth in Lending law states the applicants can actually see the report only if their loan is denied.
"The rationale is that if the credit report is bad enough that the loan is turned down then perhaps there is something incorrect on it that the applicant can put right," said Arnold D. Sperack, a Washington attorney specializing in real estate.
"Just because you pay for something doesn't mean you own it," said Sperack. He said technically the report is paid for by the lender, who then asks that the loan applicant reimburse the cost. Hammond said he paid $25 for a credit report compiled by the Credit Bureau in Warren County.
If the loan is denied, the credit bureau must open its files to the applicant free of charge.
However, anyone can take a look at the information a credit bureau has compiled on them if they are willing to pay, said Norm Oliver, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.
Under the Fair Credit Practices Act, a consumer cannot be denied access to his files in a credit bureau. But he said consumers usually must pay about $8 for paperwork.
"Nowhere does the law state the credit bureau has to show you the finished report, only the information in the files," said Oliver. He said, though, that many credit bureaus will usually make the report available as well.
Oliver said some loan applicants pay to see their credit files before they actually apply for a loan, just in case there is some erroneous information on hand they do not want the lender to see. "It can save a lot of embarrassment," he said. "Better to check the files and make sure the information is favorable before having the humiliation of being turned down for a loan because your credit is no good."
Most applicants for homeowner loans are also asked by the lender to pay for an appraisal of the real estate they want to buy. Sperack said the lender uses the appraisal to make sure the value of the property is equal to the selling price.
There is no law regarding the confidentiality of such appraisals, said Sperack. Each bank and savings and loan association has its own policy on whether they will release a copy of the appraisal to the borrower, he said.
"I imagine a lot of them wouldn't want to go through the paper work of sending it out," he said. "Legally, they don't really have to if they don't want to."
Hammond said he received a copy of the appraisal of his single-family home from the Front Royal Savings and Loan Association soon after he requested it. Officials at other savings and loan associations contacted yesterday said they rarely get requests for copies of their appraisals but would not hesitate to make them available.
"We've never had a set policy," said Don W. Crawford, vice president of loans at the First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Maryland. "We wouldn't have any trouble showing it to the borrower since they paid for it."