Having a Baby or Just Thinking About It -- Two New Reasons You Won't Get a Mortgage

Joanne Bamberger
Politics & Views

If you've got a bun in the oven, don't get your hopes up if your nesting plans include buying a home.

The New York Times recently profiled a couple that was trying to get a mortgage for a new home -- the wife is an oncologist and her husband is a grad student. The couple was approved for a mortgage loan, that is until the lender found out the wife was off work on maternity leave. The lender tried to back out, claiming that even though the wife/doctor was planning to return to work, they couldn't be sure of her income. Instead of asking when she was planning to return to work, the bank said it would have to deny them unless they got a co-signer and suggested they wait until the wife was actually back on the job for a while before trying again.

Just (1) an overzealous loan processor or (2) a bank trying to illegally keep a new mom from getting a mortgage?

I might have voted for number 1 until I read a subsequent story about another married couple that was asked to write something akin to a high school creative writing class essay before they would be considered for a mortgage (even though they had excellent financial qualifications). They had to explain not only why they wanted to buy the particular house they had chosen, but also whether they had any plans to "increase/decrease" the size of their family -- a query which is a no-no. 

They wanted the house, so even though they were offended by the inappropriateness of such questions, they wrote the letter. But in the "essay" she really wanted to write, and which is posted at MomsRising blog, mortgage-seeker Linda Falcao let Wells Fargo bank have it:

Dear Wells Fargo,

You have asked us (okay, required us as a condition of our mortgage approval, but I’m trying to put a nice face on it) to write a college-application-type essay explaining why we *HEART* 6 Henley Court. It is not enough that we have great, stable jobs, credit scores in the high 700s-800s, NO DEBT OF ANY KIND, and the loan is less than 50% of the value of the property -- we have to get you to approve our choice of new home, and, funnily enough, any plans we might have to enlarge our family. Well, here goes!


You asked us to write you about our “increase/decrease in family size.” Well, my husband and I are 49 and practice rigorous birth control (thanks for asking!), but if I turn up pregnant, after I call my dead parents and the Easter bunny, you, Wells Fargo, will be next on my list to notify about the miracle baby!!
So when banks start poking around in women's lives more than a visit to the OB/GYN's office, does that amount to gender discrimination or is it just sound financial practice to ensure repayment in this era of mortgage foreclosures? Obviously banks want to make sure that people won't default on their mortgages, but it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that women on maternity leave should be considered unemployed. I guess we'll find out when The Department of Housing and Urban Development weighs in on the growing number of Fair Housing Act complaints filed by women who have similar stories to tell.

Image via Carolien Dekeersmaeker/Flickr

Catch Joanne's take on politics and current events through the lens of modern motherhood in her weekly column, Speaker of the House. You can also find her on other days at her place, PunditMom.

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