By Vickie Elmer, NY Times
Published: January 27, 2012
THOSE who have issues with their mortgage lenders now have another place to take them: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which began accepting such complaints and inquiries this month.
A goal of the bureau — created in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation — is to help protect consumers from risky loans by watching for violations of mortgage disclosure laws and other issues. (The agency also scrutinizes credit-card practices, payday lenders and credit bureaus.)
There are many other places that allow borrowers to lodge complaints or seek recourse, of course. There are various government agencies, from the Department of Housing to state banking departments. Consumers can also contact a lender’s customer service department. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Home Loan Learning Center site provides a long list of appropriate agencies.
But to avoid any potential missteps from the outset, industry experts urge borrowers to choose their lenders carefully.
“Decide ahead of time who you want to work with,” by checking online reviews and referrals from friends or family members, said Angie Hicks, the founder and chief marketing officer of Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, which has a million members on its consumer referral and ratings site.
Mrs. Hicks suggests talking with several loan professionals, then getting as many loan details as possible in writing. Choose someone who will explain the process thoroughly, and be responsible.
Russell Tucker, a senior vice president of Investors Home Mortgage in Short Hills, N.J., has another suggestion: ask for a cellphone number. If the loan officer refuses, that could be an indication that he or she may not be readily available through the process, he said.
Financial services companies, which include the mortgage lenders, generated the greatest number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York in 2010, the last year for which data was available. (They were followed by publishing and communications and automotive companies.) The bureau put the total number of complaints against financial companies at 11,224 in 2010, 48 percent higher than in 2009.
Not surprisingly, many complaints involved loan modifications, according to Claire Rosenzweig, the president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau of Metro New York, and more specifically, the length of time it took to complete one. Some people have endured waits of six months, according to the bureau.
Anna Orkin, the local bureau’s manager of information and investigations, said she was told of loan officers who asked for the same information again and again, or did not respond to repeated phone calls or e-mails. One way to minimize this problem is to send over documents via certified mail with return receipt requested, and to keep copies — just in case.
Michael McHugh, the president of the Empire State Mortgage Banking Association, said lenders were dealing with a “tremendous volume” of troubled loans. He also said other transactions had been delayed, citing some refinancings that have taken up to 120 days to close.
To make matters worse, most mortgage lenders are no longer hiring extra workers to help out, added Mr. Tucker of Investors Home Mortgage; the practice was routine during boom years.
Ms. Rosenzweig says the Better Business Bureau will sometimes intervene on behalf of consumers, if the complaint is against a member lender.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, meanwhile, says that complaints against financial institutions can be made online, via letter or fax, or through its toll-free number, (855) 411-2372. They are forwarded to the lender for review and resolution within 60 days, for “all but the most complicated complaints,” according to a statement on the bureau site.