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Mortgages: Attention, Shoppers! New Rules Will Help You Get a Fair Deal
Shopping for a mortgage can take time and effort. And choosing the wrong mortgage can be costly — in the worst cases, leading to the loss of your home if you can't afford the payments. But new consumer protections from the federal government — a mix of prohibited lending practices and new disclosures — will increase the likelihood that people will find a fair mortgage they can afford for years to come. Here is an overview.
Lending practices prohibited as unfair, deceptive or abusive: "The new rules recognize that disclosures alone can't always protect mortgage borrowers from the harm caused by unfair and abusive lending practices," said Mira Marshall, an FDIC Section Chief specializing in consumer issues. "Now some specific, clear prohibitions will help safeguard consumers."
The following prohibitions were adopted by the Federal Reserve Board (the Fed) for mortgages made on or after October 1, 2009:
In addition, mortgage loan servicers (companies that collect mortgage payments and perform other duties for lenders) will be prohibited from engaging in a variety of unfair actions. One is the failure to credit a consumer's loan payment on the date it is received. Another is deducting a late-payment fee from a loan payment without informing the borrower and thereby creating a shortage that triggers additional fees for the borrower, month after month, even when the next loan payments arrive on time.
Lenders of higher-priced mortgages also will be required to verify a loan applicant's income and assets using reliable, third-party documents and not based on the word of the borrower. In certain cases, the lender cannot impose a prepayment penalty if the borrower pays a loan off early.
Note: Consumers who only qualify for a high-cost, subprime mortgage may wish to consider waiting until their financial situation improves before getting a loan and buying a home. "Homeownership is costly, so even if you can afford a higher-cost mortgage right now, you might be better off waiting until you can save more money, pay off some bills, improve your credit score and buy a house you're sure you can afford," said Marshall. "But if you must get a mortgage, at least now you have some protection against getting in too far over your head."
New requirements for early disclosure of loan terms and costs: In general, the rules — some from the Fed and others from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — ensure that consumers receive "good faith estimates" of the costs of a mortgage earlier in the application process and that the disclosures better explain the costs and terms of a loan. The disclosures will cover areas such as the potential for mortgage payments to go up, any penalty for paying off the loan early, and any fees paid by the lender to a mortgage broker for bringing in someone's business. Other rules relate to advertising and required consumer disclosures for home equity loans.
The Fed's rules focus on the disclosure of the costs and terms of a loan. These new rules mostly implement the Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act of 2008, which amended the Truth in Lending Act. They took effect July 30, 2009, and include these requirements:
HUD's rules, which will go into effect January 1, 2010, require lenders and mortgage brokers to use the same form to provide good faith estimates of settlement costs and disclosures of key loan terms. The rules also include changes to HUD's "uniform settlement statement" (often called the HUD-1 form) that will make it easier for consumers to compare the early, estimated costs to the actual costs to be charged. In addition, HUD's rules limit how much actual costs can increase above the estimates. HUD said its new rules are expected to save the typical borrower nearly $700 at closing.
New advertising standards for mortgages: Starting October 1, 2009, the Fed's rules will ban several advertising practices that the agency found to be deceptive or misleading.
First and foremost, the rule prohibits any advertisement from indicating that a rate or payment is "fixed" when it can change. Also, for home equity lines of credit, if an advertisement mentions a minimum payment — which may result in a large, lump-sum "balloon payment" due at the end of the loan term — the ad must state that fact with equal prominence and in close proximity to the minimum payment information. The new rule also requires advertisements to show all interest rates or payment amounts with equal prominence and in close proximity to any low promotional or "teaser" rate or payment.
Mortgage loan originators will be subject to new federal registration requirements. The federal Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 (the SAFE Act) requires mortgage loan originators — including loan officers at financial institutions and independent mortgage brokers — to register with the government and enter information about their background and disciplinary history into a central database that consumers can access. The SAFE Act is intended to enhance consumer protections and reduce fraud in the residential mortgage industry.
Registration of state-licensed mortgage loan originators (primarily independent brokers) has already begun. The registration process for federally regulated mortgage originators (such as loan officers at banks and credit unions) and the database that will accept federal registrations are under development.
In addition, the law requires all state governments to have licensing and minimum education requirements for the mortgage loan originators they regulate, which primarily includes independent mortgage brokers.
"One of the positive outcomes of the recent financial crisis is that new, substantive protections will help mortgage borrowers avoid the mistakes and abuses of the past, some of which resulted in families losing their homes to foreclosure," said Gimble. "But consumers are still responsible for protecting themselves, too, by carefully reviewing the costs and terms of any home loan and considering their options before signing a contract."
Gimble also said that when a mortgage is too complex to understand, "consumers should seek help before committing to that product. Chances are, there are alternatives that are less complex and perhaps less costly, so shop around."
You may get the help you need from a trained, reputable housing counselor for no charge or a small fee. Find one through groups such as NeighborWorks America (www.nw.org) or by calling 1-888-995-HOPE (4673). Or, for a referral to a local HUD-certified counseling agency, visit www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm or call 1-800-569-4287.
To learn more about mortgages, including additional details about the new rules, see For Help and Information on Credit Cards, Mortgages and Other Financial Services.
Last Updated 8/26/2009