Despite federal laws that protect Americans against mortgage discrimination, African Americans continue to struggle to obtain loans or to get them on equitably fair terms. A recent study found that the roadblocks occur fairly early in the lending process, including on the basis of an applicant’s name.

Economists from Marquette University, Texas Christian University and Georgia University found that Black loan applicants can face challenges right at the door—from mortgage loan originators, the people who assist customers with loan applications and negotiate the terms of those mortgages.

“If differences in initial treatment by a mortgage loan originator is severe (offering different interest rates, fees, or suggesting credit repair services), this could conceivably affect a home buyer in all aspects of the home purchase, even if they are successful in obtaining a loan,” the researchers wrote in their report.

In fact, discrimination may prevent African Americans from getting someone to talk to them in the first place, their findings show. Federal laws including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act prohibit mortgage discrimination.

Using New York City birth records and U.S. Census data, the economists devised 20 names distinctly associated with being either White or Black. Then they sent two e-mails each to 5,000 mortgage loan originators. The communiques differed in the potential borrower’s race, credit score or both. The researchers then examined the tendency of the loan gatekeepers to respond, to follow up and also the content of the e-mails.

They found that people with Caucasian-sounding names were more likely to receive a response, to get additional information about loans and also to receive a follow-up response than those with Black-sounding names, as did people with higher credit scores.

“On net, 1.8 percent of mortgage loan originators discriminate by not responding to inquiries from African Americans while responding to inquiries from white clients,” the researchers reported. “We also find that credit score differences exacerbate differences in response between races.

“Overall, the effect of being African-American on mortgage loan originators response is roughly equivalent to the effect of having a credit score that is 71 points lower,” the study concluded.