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Four steps to a stress-free refi

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If you're applying in person, you can bring in the bank statements, pay stubs, tax returns and other paperwork when you apply, and if you're missing a critical document, you can rush home and get it. Not so if you apply over the phone or the Web, as IndyMac's consumer customers do.

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When you work with a remote lender, try faxing or e-mailing scanned documents if you can, Rich recommends. Send bulky documents by overnight courier. Make sure you have the correct name and address of the person who is to receive the papers.

Vella says refinancing customers often forget two critical pieces of information. First, they sometimes forget to bring in their hazard insurance documents. At the least, borrowers should have the name of their insurer and the policy number. Second, many lenders want to verify the last two years of each borrower's employment. That means that if you have taken a job with a new employer in the past two years, you need to bring the address and contact name and phone number of your previous employer.

Perry hastens to point out that some lenders, including Countrywide, allow current customers to apply for refinancing with little paperwork.

Get the right loan lock
Many lenders are telling refi customers that their loans will take up to 60 days to close. Other lenders stretch their estimate to 90 days. If you want to lock at today's low rates, make sure the lock extends at least up to the lender's estimate of how long it will take to close the loan.

"A consumer needs to know what is being guaranteed with the rate lock," Vella says. If you lock for 30 days and the lender takes 60 to get to closing, you don't really have a rate lock. "I would recommend that the borrower not lock in less than 60 in this rate environment because it is taking longer to close," Vella says.

It is taking a long time not only because loan offices are busy, but also because appraisers are swamped and so are title agents and title attorneys. Reserving a table in a title office is like booking a reservation at Manhattan's hottest restaurant: It's hard to get in, and you might have to settle for a less-than-ideal time of day.

Stay in touch, but don't pester
With the delays and the worries over paperwork, borrowers get antsy when they haven't heard from their lenders in a while. They want to know what's going on with their loan. "To call every few days probably doesn't make things go any faster," Vella says diplomatically.

She suggests that you discuss with the lender or broker how often you want to be contacted, even if it's just to hear that the lender is waiting for the appraiser to visit the house. If you want a phone call every Friday, say so, Vella says. If you want a phone call every time something significant happens, say so.

Ask for a timeline of the loan -- a document that spells out when each step is expected to be completed. "It relieves stress on the part of the borrower," Vella says.

Rich says "the best of the best of the loan officers" give their customer's timeline routinely, without being asked.

Getting a timeline from the lender might not get your loan closed before your next-door neighbors who applied on the same day, but it helps you understand what's taking so long -- and that can be the difference between a stressful and a stress-free refi.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Sept. 20, 2004
More stories by Holden Lewis
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