mortgage

New rule would refund some mortgage fees

Handing over money
Highlights
  • Rule would let consumers cancel loan applications and get refunds.
  • Application, appraisal fees would be refundable within three days.
  • Many lenders already use policy proposed by Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve has proposed a rule that would give consumers the right to cancel mortgage applications within three days and get refunds of fees.

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Under the proposed rule, consumers could apply with two or more lenders, pay various fees, then cancel all but one application and get refunds from the rejected lenders. Application, appraisal and other fees would be refundable; credit reporting fees would not be refundable.

According to Bankrate's 2010 Closing Costs Study, the average appraisal costs $377, while application fees average $343. Credit report fees -- which would not be refundable -- averaged $18 in the Bankrate survey.

Most lenders bill borrowers directly for credit reports and appraisals. Some, but not all, lenders charge application fees.

Jeff Lazerson, president of MortgageGrader.com, an online brokerage based in Laguna Niguel, Calif., says the proposed rule's impact might be blunted by the fact that most reputable lenders wait three or more days to collect fees anyway.

"For the consumer, it's not bad, because it's going to help pave the way for them to find their best loan," Lazerson says. "For the lenders it's going to make them a little crazy because they're going to be spinning their wheels a lot ... but we end up doing that today, anyway."

The proposed rule was "well-telegraphed," says Dan Green, loan officer for Waterstone Mortgage in Cincinnati. That's why his company, and many other lenders, already wait three days before they charge fees.

Direct effect

The proposal was included in a 930-page document the Fed published in the Federal Register in the middle of August. The book-length Fed document finalized some rules that had been proposed a year or more ago, clarified a few regulations and proposed some new ones.

Many of the rules affect consumers only indirectly. The Fed's proposal to give consumers the right to cancel applications within three days is an exception. By imposing a three-day shopping period, it would affect consumers directly.

Shoppers would be entitled to refunds if they cancel an application within three business days of receiving a pair of disclosures: the good faith estimate and the Truth in Lending Act statement. (In lender lingo, they're called the GFE and the TILA.)

There are nuances regarding the definitions of "three business days" and "receiving the early disclosures." A business day is any day that's not a Sunday or holiday. To be on the safe side, consumers should assume that the three-day clock begins ticking the day they apply.

The Fed says it's making the proposal to help consumers comparison-shop for mortgages and save money, saying the proposal gives consumers time to review the terms of the loan and make a decision "without feeling financially committed due to having paid an application fee."

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The proposal is just the latest effort on the part of regulators to make it easier for consumers to comparison-shop mortgage offers.

By encouraging borrowers to shop for loan deals, the regulations are slowing the process of getting a mortgage. Rulemakers say the slowdown is worth it if consumers get better loan deals.

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