Predatory Upfront Loan Modification Fees

I’m troubled by a trend that I’m seeing.  Recently I’ve noticed that mortgage brokers/loan originators have become interested in learning about loss mitigation techniques. When I ask why, they say that they’re hearing there’s good money to be made doing loan modifications.  What? Wait a second. I thought loan modifications were done by the lender for free.

More and more spam is popping up in my spam bin advertising loan modification services, offered by loan originators so I decided to call one of these LOs today after sending an email late last night asking for more information and receiving no reply. 

This particular person goes by the title of “mortgage planner.”  On her website, she advertises a wide variety of mortgage products including the pay option ARM and the hybrid ARM (are those even available anymore?) but there’s nothing on her website about loan modifications. None of the staff bios show any experience in doing loan modifications. Here’s what I found out.  The upfront fee charged to the homeowner is $3500.  But the LO assures me that all the work is handled by attorneys, she says.  The borrower’s up front fee is placed into escrow.  If a request for loan modification is accepted by the lender for loss mitigation (statistics were offered that 93% of loans are being modified) the full fee is due.  If the loan does not get modified, $2,000 is refunded and the remaining $1500 is not.  I asked the LO why a homeowner wouldn’t just work directly with an attorney.  She said that she works with a network of attorneys with a high loan mod approval rate and homeowners are always free to hire their own attorney and not work with her.

I asked her how much of the $3500 goes to the attorney and how much of it she gets to keep.  Her response was, “why are you asking me that?” To which I replied, “because if the attorney is doing all the work, then I’m wondering how much of that fee is going to you.”  She said “Well I work with the clients. I put a package together and follow up with the lender.” I said, “but a few minutes ago you mentioned that everything is handled by attorneys.”  Of course at this point the conversation has turned a tad bit adversarial and she starts to probe deeper into my true intentions. My intentions are only to get closer to what’s really going on here. I need to know if this sort of gig is something that is a viable alternative for Realtors to know about when counseling homeowners in financial distress.  My intentions are to be able to help other loan originators evaluate whether receiving a referral fee on a loan modification is going to get them into trouble.  If I were to guess, I’d say that the LO earned $2,000 for a successful loan mod and the remaining $1500 went to the attorney. There are forums out there confirming my guess.

In some states, including Washington State, Mortgage Brokers and their LOs now owe fiduciary duties to consumers.  Fiduciary comes from the Latin word fiducia, meaning “trust.