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Predatory Lending Q & A

I did a recent interview regarding predatory lending. I thought I’d share it here to offer a better insight as to what predatory lending is, and how it can affect you and your family.

1. How would you define predatory lending in the mortgage industry?

Predatory lending is a very subjective term, which makes it hard to define, and even harder to control. To some, it may involve charging too much to complete a mortgage application, while others may define it as doctoring forms to qualify an applicant for a loan. It also involves more cut and dry practices such as deceiving borrowers by failing to include all associated costs upfront, forging documentation, or simply leaving out important documents such as the Hud-1 or the Good Faith Estimate. Either way, what’s clear is that predatory lending usually involves unethical practices.

2. Is it a big problem? Why or why not?

Personally, I think it’s a huge problem. Much of the current state of affairs in the mortgage industry can be blamed on predatory lending to some extent, whether it was manipulating figures to qualify a borrower, or simply sticking a borrower into an option-arm they would later default on after mortgage payments reset. Many households nationwide have been shattered by some form of predatory lending.

3. What are the consequences or the problems that a borrower can face if they get a mortgage with a predatory lender?

Clearly the biggest consequence is a borrower losing his or her home. If a borrower was misinformed during the loan process and later found out they were unable to afford payments, the result could be devastating. As a result of loose lending practices over the past few years, many homeowners across the nation are facing payment default and foreclosure, and the problem could get worse in the near future. Even if affected homeowners are able to stay afloat, many were overcharged thousands of dollars which can impact other areas of their life and makes things a lot more difficult financially.

4. What are factors that consumers should consider when choosing a mortgage lender?

Typically, choosing a large, well-known bank or lender will help homeowners avoid much of the predatory lending problem, although even the big guys exhibit their own form of predatory lending, perhaps to a lesser extent. I think the key is educating homeowners about the process before they embark upon the loan process. Any bank or lender can overcharge you or throw you for a loop. It’s up to the borrower to educate themselves to ensure they make informed decisions and avoid the typical traps inexperienced borrowers fall into.

5. Should they go with an institution that they already have borrowed money from such as a bank or credit union for instance?

Previous relationships can be a positive for several reasons, including peace of mind, familiarity with the process and employees, and perhaps even better pricing. Many banks and lenders offer a discount to borrowers based on the level of relationship already established. And it’s always wise to consider your current bank along with all other potential financing options.

6. Is there any particular “profile” of a predatory lender? If so, what it is?

–Is it the lender that is “bad” or the loan products that they offer?

The scary thing about predatory lending is how loosely it can be defined. Sometimes it’s the lender, and sometimes it’s the products they sell. And it may be one of those or a combination of things that make it “predatory”. Loan programs themselves are fairly objective in their nature, but salespeople can highlight certain aspects while leaving out others. This type of omission is another form of predatory lending. Of course you may also encounter a completely evil bank or mortgage broker that exists simply to overcharge, defraud, and misinform you. But again, it can be case by case, with some homeowners being affected more than others. For example, minorities have been said to be more impacted by predatory lending.

7. Why is it important for a prospective borrower to choose the “right” lender?

Obtaining a mortgage is likely the largest financial transaction a consumer will make in their life, so making the right decision is crucial. Most people comparison shop when looking at televisions or cell phones, so the attention should be ten fold when shopping for a mortgage. Just as you’d buy your TV or phone from a reputable merchant, the same carries over to mortgage. You want someone you can trust, who you can contact if anything goes wrong, and someone you think will steer you in the right direction. Predatory lending can happen at any company, so it’s not only the company, but the individual you ultimately work with. Take your time to select and “interview” the person who will handle your loan.

8. What tips can you offer buyers who want to find a good mortgage, HELOC or other housing-loan product?

My recommendation is to self-educate. While you may be able to shop around and find an “honest lender” or the “best broker”, education will ultimately help consumers make the right decisions, obtain the best mortgage rates, and pay the lowest fees. You’d be surprised how much you can learn simply by reading blogs or opening up the newspaper each morning. Mortgage is a hot subject and there is certainly no shortage of information. The more you know, the more you can negotiate, and the more you’ll save!

9. Does the shopping approach for a mortgage change when someone is looking for their first mortgage as opposed to a mortgage that isn’t their first home purchase?

I’m sure consumers would take into consideration their past experiences when shopping for a second mortgage, and so on. Anything that went wrong the first time around should be examined and ultimately adjusted to ensure things go smoothly the next time. Again, it really comes down to the borrower and their willingness to take the time to learn about the process and understand how things work. If they do take a moment to educate themselves, their second experience should be much better, and that will be evident in pricing and fees.

10. Is finding a lender online any different than shopping in person?

There are unscrupulous lenders on and offline, just as there are with any business. The key is research, referrals, and education. Make sure you know who you’re working with, how they operate, who you can get in contact with, and so on. Some people may be turned off to the idea of working with someone remotely, while others may have no problem with it. I think it’s highly important to be able to get in contact with whomever it is you choose to work with when handling a complicated mortgage transaction. If you aren’t able to, you may panic.

11. What do’s and dont’s should consumers follow?

It’s tough to generalize here, but I can recommend a few tips. Make sure you’re working with a reputable company. As I mentioned earlier, get referrals, contact information, and meet face to face if possible. Get everything in writing and make sure you understand every detail before signing and moving on. Don’t let anyone rush you or intimidate you. Again, this comes back to being educated on the subject. If the loan process makes sense to you, you won’t be afraid to ask questions or make objections when necessary. If you’re not sure of something, don’t sign. Homeowners need to approach the process more confidently, and confidence is a byproduct of education.

12. Based on what the blog says, you worked in the mortgage industry. Can you offer any industry perspective that can help consumers?

–Such as are lenders commission fueled, does a lender try to get a borrower to borrow a higher loan amount, etc.

I learned a lot about the mortgage industry over the years, but one insight I could walk away with is that everyone is in the industry is there to make big money. And many people are looking for a quick buck. Remember, banks and lenders are in the business of getting loans funded, and whether you get a good deal or not is really of little consequence. Employees at companies large and small will push whatever program is in their best interest.

Some loan programs tend to carry higher commissions, so you better bet they’ll be the first ones you see. Decide what program works for you before meeting with a bank, broker, loan officer, or lender. Otherwise you’ll likely see programs that fit their personal agenda. The option-arms are a good example of this. They had the highest payouts in the industry, and as a result were sold aggressively nationwide. These are the same loans that have caused homeowners everywhere to miss payments and face foreclosure.

13. What resources can people use to help them sort out how to find a lender?

When seeking out a bank, lender, or broker to work with, I would recommend a great deal of prior research. As I mentioned with comparison shopping, a mortgage is likely the largest purchase of your life, so make sure you take the time to make an educated and thoughtful decision. The people representing you control your destiny, and people with bad intentions will do whatever it takes to make the most money at your expense. Search online, consult with friends, family, and co-workers, and find out what did or didn’t work for them. Read the newspaper, magazines, and online publications to see who’s in good standing and who has seen better days.

14. Would you say the foreclosure rate is high or low right now? Does the quality of lenders people are choosing have something to do with that?

Current data would suggest that foreclosures are at a high right now, and that has a lot to do with loose lending practices, not necessarily the quality of lenders out there. The mortgage industry really got out of control, with lenders offering ridiculous programs such as “No Doc” loans to 100% financing that didn’t require income, assets, or employment verification, and 100% option arms that allowed borrowers to qualify for million-dollar homes when they could barely afford to pay rent. Now a good deal of these homeowners are in too deep, with many missing their mortgage payments and facing foreclosure. You can blame the lenders who offered them such risky programs, but you also have to look at the homeowners. Most people knew they were getting more home than they could afford, but looked the other way and hoped for the best.

15. Any common myths that borrowers fall into or misconceptions that they have about lenders or looking for one?

There are a ton of myths, lies, and inaccuracies out there because the mortgage industry is a huge mix of seasoned veterans, get rich quick junkies, and newbies. You could be misinformed as to how a mortgage program works, or be told that your credit score isn’t high enough to qualify for a loan. You may also be informed that your particular loan scenario is more complicated than it actually is, resulting in a much higher interest rate.

Unfortunately, if you don’t educate yourself about mortgage, knowing what’s accurate and what’s just hot air will be hard to distinguish. Sure there may be lenders and brokers out there looking to build a long-term relationship, but it’s better to be vigilant to ensure you come out on the winning end. Little things can make a huge impact in the mortgage industry and the choices we make during the loan process can make or break us as homeowners. Your credit score may be a few points shy of qualifying for a loan, or you may send in the wrong document and jeopardize your loan entirely.

Mistakes happen, but we can minimize risk if we take the time to learn about the process and leave plenty of time to prepare. Remember, buying or refinancing a property is a major financial decision, and one that requires a great deal of time, research, and attention.

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