Friday, November 16, 2012

Watchdog Targets Mortgage Servicers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun examinations of mortgage servicers as part of its larger initiative to regulate the mortgage industry.

The examinations will focus initially on loans in default where consumers are struggling to make payments, but will widen into an investigation of the entire loan-modification application process, officials said.

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Each CFPB examination will look into whether the servicer is providing information about alternatives to foreclosure that is clear, whether loans sent to foreclosure are properly reviewed and actually in default and whether the fees charged to delinquent borrowers are not duplicative or otherwise illegal.The CFPB says it is looking into mortgage servicers, who are responsible for collecting payments from the mortgage borrower on behalf of the owner of that loan, since in the vast majority of cases consumers do not choose their mortgage servicer and mortgage servicing rights can be, and frequently are, bought and sold among servicers.A senior official for the CFPB said last week that a significant number of examinations are under way. The bureau has released an 800-page volume explaining how the examinations will be conducted, and is seeking feedback from industry officials and consumer advocates. "Bank regulators didn't do a good job in the past," says Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. "We need someone with fresh eyes and a consumer protection perspective to look into the industry."

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Rheingold also says that while policy changes won't happen overnight, new regulations aren't as far away as the public might think, even without a confirmed CFPB director.

"The bureau can still make rules if it is getting authorities transferred from other agencies," Rheingold says. However, these examination procedures are being unveiled at a time other pressures may force changes in the mortgage industry, he adds.

The Office of the Comptroller of Currency recently unveiled a new complaint review process for homeowners believing they were the victims of an improper foreclosure. There is also the ongoing probe by state attorneys general into the mortgage industry over the foreclosure document mess (aka "robo-signing") that has yet to be settled. Rheingold says that while it is too soon to predict what rules specifically might go into effect, he hopes new regulations will be put in place that prevent servicers from pushing families into foreclosure and charging inordinate fees once a loan enters in default. The examinations are the latest step in the CFPB's focus on the mortgage industry. Earlier this year, the CFPB unveiled two sample documents that could replace existing federally required mortgage disclosure forms."Mortgage servicing has a huge impact on consumers and is a priority for the CFPB," Raj Date, special adviser to the secretary of the Treasury on the CFPB, says in a written statement. "The mortgage servicing market has been bogged down by widespread reports of pervasive and profound consumer protection problems. We are going to take a close and measured look at whether servicers are following the law."Follow on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

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