Consumer agency gets an incomplete grade
Kenneth R. Harney Jan 23, 2015
WASHINGTON – When the federal government’s consumer protection agency for financial matters tells you how to shop for a good deal on a home mortgage, you should follow the advice, right?
Maybe some of it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in the backwash of the worst national mortgage disaster since the Great Depression, went online with a new interactive mortgage tool last week. The CFPB’s site (www.consumerfinance.gov) offers helpful tips on shopping and has a guide to loan alternatives, closing costs and a “rate checker” feature.
At first glance, the rate checker appears to be a quick way to research prevailing mortgage interest rates in your area. Here’s how it works- You enter the state where you want to apply, a FICO credit score estimate, your desired loan amount and the loan term. The rate checker then displays the local daily rate quotes collected from banks and credit unions by its data vendor, Informa Research Services Inc. of Calabasas, California.
Say you live in Virginia or California and want to see what rate you might get on a $400,000 house purchase with a $40,000 down payment. You input your estimated credit score. Say you’ve got a FICO 680. In Virginia, according to the rate checker readout Jan.16, “most lenders” in the survey would quote you 3.875 percent or less for a 30-year fixed-rate loan. Two lenders offered 3.625 percent and six quoted between 4 percent and 4.375 percent.
In California, most lenders also quoted 3.875 percent or less, one quoted 3.75 percent and five came in between 4 and 4.375 percent. None went as low as 3.625 percent.
But something important is missing here- The various fees and charges that the CFPB itself requires lenders to disclose as part of any mortgage quote to a consumer. As regulator of the Truth in Lending Act, CFPB regulations mandate precise disclosures of loan discount fees or “points” and lender closing charges among others. (A point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.) These are included in the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – the effective rate applicants will be paying over the life of the loan.
When lenders advertise their rates, they must include the APR along with the base interest rate. There may be other charges that come into the total cost picture as well, such as lender-paid mortgage insurance and investor “overlay” add-ons.
So how big a deal could it be when only the interest rate is provided? In a statement for this column, Quicken Loans, the second largest retail lender in the country, said that quoting a rate alone, with no reference to specific points, fees and the APR, “will deliver a cost estimate that greatly differs from what is accurate.” Steve Stamets, senior mortgage banker for Apex Home Loans, Rockville, Maryland, told me “it’s inherently misleading because you’re not getting all the potential charges” you’re going to have to pay.
For example, said Stamets, a loan officer might violate CFPB rules by quoting a 3 percent rate on a hypothetical $400,000 loan to pull in customers, but not mention that to obtain that rate they will need to pay 5 points – $20,000. Those points could be paid at settlement or financed and included in the interest rate. In the latter case, using one rule of thumb measure, the effective rate on the loan might jump to 4.25 percent, not the 3 percent advertised.
David Stevens, CEO and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in an interview that CFPB’s rate checker’s failure to disclose full costs “violates everything a lender must do” to quote rates to borrowers in compliance with the agency’s own rules. “It’s just a bad idea,” he said. “It needs to come down.”
But the CFPB shows no signs of yielding to critics. In a statement for this column, the agency said the rates quoted “assume” discount points ranging between one half a point to minus one half a point “and a 60-day rate lock,” but do not include lender closing charges. Dave Hershman, a nationally known trainer and author who helps mortgage companies comply with the rules, scoffed at the CFPB’s defense- “Could you imagine (the bureau) allowing a mortgage company to be that nebulous? And to quote rates without an APR?”
Bottom line- Check out the Rate Checker. But remember- There’s much more to a mortgage quote than just the rate.