The NAACP is accusing Wells Fargo and HSBC of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.
Class-action lawsuits were to be filed against the banks Friday in federal court in Los Angeles, Austin Tighe, co-lead counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told The Associated Press.
Black homebuyers have been 3½ times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white borrowers, and six times more likely to get a subprime rate when refinancing, Tighe said. Blacks still were disproportionately steered into subprime loans when their credit scores, income and down payment were equal to those of white homebuyers, he said.
Melissa Murray, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo & Co., called the lawsuit "totally unfounded and reckless." The bank is receiving federal bailout funds.
"We have never tolerated, and will never tolerate, discrimination in any way, shape or form in any of our business practices, products, or services," Murray said.
HSBC said it does not comment on litigation. "HSBC stands by its fair lending and consumer protection practices, and we are confident that we are treating our customers fairly and with integrity," said Neil Brazil, vice president for public affairs.
An NAACP member, Amara Weaver of Milwaukee, said she was one of the victims of predatory lending. She bought her first home in 1984, receiving a 6.25 percent fixed-rate mortgage. She says she had a steady job as a human resources director for a social services agency, never missed a mortgage payment and maintained excellent credit.
In 2004, she wanted to buy the house next door for her son to live in. She said the bank promised her a low fixed rate for a $40,000 loan, but at the closing, when reading the fine print, she noticed that the rate was actually 11 percent.
"I was blown away," said Weaver, an NAACP member. "I didn't have any choice (but to sign). ... It made me feel violated."
Similar NAACP lawsuits are pending against a dozen other subprime lenders.
"This is systematic, institutionalized racism," Tighe said. "Once you take out factors relative to income and credit risk, the only difference between the borrowers is the color of their skin."
Tighe estimated that "tens of thousands" of blacks had been forced into bad loans, but said it was difficult to gauge the scope of the problem because banks keep much of their internal data private. The lawsuits could force banks to divulge closely guarded information, such as how banks can determine the race of a loan applicant and how federal bailout funds are being spent.
The NAACP is seeking reforms from the banks such as increased transparency in the loan process, educational outreach and internal training.
A Federal Reserve study last year found that 55 percent of blacks and 17 percent of whites were steered to sub prime mortgages, even when they qualified for lower interest rates, CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reported.
"It's a surprise to some people," Carver Federal Savings president Deborah Wright. "It's not a surprise to us."