Protecting yourself against Mortgage Scams, screw-ups,
and bait & switch advertising!

Mortgage rates have tumbled and Federal Reserve Board officials are aggressively cutting rates. That's great news for veteran loan hunters, who can save thousands of dollars by refinancing.

But for inexperienced shoppers who don't watch their backs, the boom can turn into a bust.

Busy periods make it easier for sly mortgage lenders and brokers to mislead and take advantage of nave consumers using any number of tricks, from quoting bogus rates over the telephone to slipping gratuitous costs into their loans. To avoid these problems -- as well as other trip-ups posed by the confusing mortgage process itself -- consumers have to brush up on their shopping skills.

Market is ripe for tricks and trip-ups
In a refinance market, you have to be careful because a lot of people come into the industry at those times, a lot of companies come into the market, a lot of rookie originators come into the market that may not have the experience level you're comfortable with.

People know there's volume and there's money to be made in this business right now. Refinancing or purchasing a home is usually the largest transaction a person is going to make in their lives and you don't want to be the guinea pig.

Most lenders and brokers aren't out to fleece customers and the complexity of the home loan process -- rather than anyone's malfeasance -- takes the blame for some of the obstacles consumers face. Many trip-ups don't rise to the level of "predatory lending" either. Nevertheless, they can cost borrowers serious time and money, and guarding against them becomes even more important during the boom times.

There's kind of a range of games that get played and they're pretty broad, from fairly benign stuff to outright fraud.

Problems can pop up long before a borrower fills out any paperwork. Indeed, just finding out how much a mortgage costs can be confusing.

Be as specific as possible
Many potential customers simply call lenders up and ask, "What's your rate?" But they fail to indicate what kind of loan they need, how long of a lock period they want, how many discount points they're willing to pay, how long the rate is good for or anything else. Consumers have to specify all of these things or lenders can pretty much say whatever they want, then provide different figures when the customers come in and blame the lack of specificity.

A loan with a lock period of just 15 days, for instance, usually has a lower rate than one that a consumer can lock in for 60 days. Most consumers opt for loans with longer locks because they need more than two weeks to close. But loan officers sometimes quote rates on their shortest-lock loans over the phone or in print just to sound cheap, knowing full well that many callers will never be able to obtain those loans. Companies can provide interest rates that include several discount "points" to make their rates look better, even though most of our customers either can't or don't want to put down several thousand extra dollars at closing for "points" to lower the interest rate.

In most of newspapers, once a week or more, they'll have a list of rates by lender. But frequently you'll find the rates they put in the paper were rates that were really never available. They kind of low ball their rate. When you come in, they'll tell you the market has moved and the rates are now higher. They get away with this because the rate they list in the Sunday paper is usually submitted on Thursday. You read the paper on Sunday, then call the lender on Monday...

On the internet, they have mortgage rate quote web sites, where you'll see rates and costs listed that appear fantastic. But if you can get them to give you a printed estimate, the rate and costs may be significantly different than actually posted on the web.

Figure in the fees
Borrowers often forget to ask about fees, and don't compare lenders based on their
closing costs. That allows companies to pad their bottom lines by adding "processing fees" and other miscellaneous charges to the loan at closing. Lenders don't control certain fees for services provided by third parties, such as title searches and appraisals. But they can adjust their own fees, so consumers who know to do so will negotiate.

It's a competitive business. But if they go to one-stop shopping and let somebody else handle it for them without them doing homework themselves, they could end up paying more than they need to.

Don't believe everything you read
Consumers need to watch out for advertising tricks, too. Companies have been plugging "no cost" refinance loans lately, but the tagline really means "no out-of-pocket costs at closing." Borrowers pay higher rates on these mortgages and lenders use the extra money to pay the costs themselves. There is no such thing as a no cost loan!

The annual percentage rate, or APR, found in advertisements can be misleading as well. Mortgage lenders don't always include all the fees they charge in the calculation that determines APR, so customers who use that figure to shop rather than an itemized breakdown of rates, points and fees may end up comparing apples to oranges.

Of course, it's difficult for borrowers to compare fees when they don't know what they are. By law, lenders and brokers don't have to give what's called the Good Faith Estimate document to customers until three days after they apply. But there's nothing preventing shoppers from asking for it before committing to anything. Reputable lenders will provide one. If they DON'T, or won't before filling out an application or going into their office - DON'T USE THEM!

Please read my article - "Beware of the Bad, Good Faith Estimate", so you know what to look for when you do get your estimate!

Know the score
After customers apply and have their
credit scores pulled by their lenders, they should ask for those too. Companies have no obligation to share them, but those scores often dictate whether borrowers get loans and how much they have to pay for them. Customers who obtain their scores can get rate quotes tailored to them, rather than receive quotes that may apply only to borrowers with better or worse credit.

If I would say at the application stage to my lender, "Hey, when you pull my credit report, will you tell me what my scores are?" and he said no, I think I would go somewhere else. Why not go with somebody who is willing to tell you? You need to know.

Last-minute maneuvers
Closer to closing, borrowers also have to watch out for counteroffers from their current mortgage servicers or lenders. When borrowers refinance their loans, their new lenders request "payoff letters" from their old lenders. These letters spell out exactly how much the old lenders are entitled to at closing and are often the only indication that a borrower is refinancing.

To avoid losing customers, lenders who are about to get the boot sometimes swoop in and offer to lower their borrowers' rates or refinance them into new loans themselves. While the offers sound competitive, they aren't always so. Another source of confusion is that your current lender can do a loan for lower fees. The vast majority of the time this is NOT true. Loans are 'packaged' to be resold. The vast majority of lenders resell their loans and therefore any changes to the original loan require a complete new package, new closing, new note, new closing costs, new appraisal, new everything, etc. Plus, they usually come very late in the process. Borrowers who accept them can end up having to forfeit application fees or other monies to the lenders they planned on using.

By learning about all of these miscellaneous traps, consumers can take advantage of today's lower rates and refinance without worrying about being taken for a ride. After all, experts say, preparation is the best defense against shady lending practices.

It comes back to education. If I've called five respectable lenders - I know about what rates and costs are. It's going to be pretty easy for me to know whether one lender is pulling the wool over my eyes.

One final word of advice. NEVER EVER use an out state Internet Lender. Although you may have found us on the Internet, we are not an Internet lender. We are a local Minnesota lender with an Internet presence. What is the difference? If the lender you are thinking of using does not have a local office - DO NOT USE THEM. These out state lenders are by far the worst in terms of misleading quotes, miscellaneous traps, and shady lending practices.

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