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Loan rejections soon to come with justification

If you're not feeling a lender's love, you'll soon know exactly why you got jilted.

As of last month, if a lender denies you a credit card, a car loan or other loan product based on your credit score, you're entitled to a free copy of that score. You'll also get a list of the reasons why you got rejected. Ditto if you get a less-than-favorable interest rate on a new loan.

Some credit experts call the new disclosure rules a historic change in how consumers are treated by lenders.

It's all part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Congress enacted last year to give consumers more clarity in their financial life. The legislation also created a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The bureau's mission is to ensure that consumers know exactly what they're getting with mortgages, credit cards, loans and other financial products. Or as the bureau's fledgling website (consumerfinance.gov) notes: It's to ensure that "prices are clear up front, that risks are visible, and that nothing is buried in fine print."

And part of that clarity is knowing why you got dinged by a lender.

In the past, if you were rejected for a credit card, you might not get any explanation. Under the new rules, you'll now get -- in the mail -- the exact score used by the lender when reviewing your credit application. The letter will also include the reasons why your score was considered risky: too many late payments, balances too high, too many credit card applications, etc.

"For consumers, this is the first time they'll see their real score used by the lender. It'll give consumers an exact picture of where they stand in the lender's eyes And they'll get this in the mail without even asking," said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. "It's a historic change."

Just as a refresher, the most commonly used credit score, known as the FICO, is a three-digit number between 300 and 850. It determines how much -- or how little -- you'll pay for all kinds of borrowing, from student loans to credit cards to home mortgages.

The higher your score, the better your chances of getting approved for a loan and the lower your interest rate, which can mean huge savings in the long run.

Note: Credit scores are not the same as credit reports, which are the histories of all your bill payments, loan balances and delinquencies. Credit reports are compiled by the three reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).

The new rules do not cover mortgage loans, which already require disclosure of credit scores. They also don't apply to applications for insurance, since those don't generally rely on credit scores.

Those with good credit won't get a credit score letter in the mail, but the new rules "validate" that you're getting the best possible rate from a lender, Ulzheimer said.

For those who do get rejected or receive a less-than-ideal APR, the lender's explanatory letter "empowers consumers to actually go out and improve their score. They know why it isn't higher," he said.

And one last note on the new disclosure law:

"It underscores the importance of opening that mail from a lender," Ulzheimer said. "At the very least, the consumer will now have a road map to better credit."