[Editor’s Note: I’m excited to publish this guest post from Adam Stein on changing role of good faith estimates. He’s a long-time local mortgage professional with Cascade Pacific Mortgage. ]
The FTC study reported on the proposed new Good Faith Estimates early on in 2005. Armed with a very thorough and unbiased study the FTC went on record, early and often, and clearly stated the FTC’s position on (then) HUD’s proposed revised Good Faith Estimate:’ DON’T DO IT!’ It seems the FTC’s findings clearly showed that consumers failed to be able to choose what loan was in their best interest when comparing rates and fees. [here’s the FTC’s Facts for Consumers: Looking for the Best Mortgage: Shop, Compare, Negotiate] So much was the confusion caused by the new Good Faith Estimate that over sixty percent of the consumers could not identify the best loan for them when comparing Good Faith Estimates generated by mortgage brokers and mortgage bankers. HUD, not to be outdone, quickly came to their own rescue with their own ‘not-so-unbiased’ study. HUD, supporting their own, quickly produced a study stating that the consumer really does understand the new disclosure (Really?).
And so the battle over RESPA reform has been waged for the better part of the last ten years. At one point the Secretary of HUD attempted to ‘slip RESPA reform under the mat’ by submitting the proposed rule just hours before Congress went on recess. Those who would have been impacted by the rule change clearly and accurately viewed this effort as ‘under handed’ as much of the required ‘commentary period’ passed by without any representative government in session to discuss the proposed RESPA reform. That effort failed in the end. The banking special interests, however, have finally figured out how to get a Good Faith Estimate through the rule making process under the guise of ‘what you can’t buy in an administration you’ll just have to do yourself’. Enter the Federal Reserve Board.
While the FRB sounds like a branch of the Federal Government it really isn’t. The Federal Reserve is a codified, private sector, coalition of the nation’s largest banks and finance companies who collaborate and advise government on key financial issues. The Federal Reserve Board also is empowered to regulate the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) and promulgate rules as required. Is it any wonder that the new Good Faith Estimate, vilified by the FTC for creating consumer confusion, creates a bias towards Good Faith Estimates that are generated by banks over those prepared by mortgage brokers?
My concerns are twofold: if the consumer can’t properly identify the best loan they will pay more; if mortgage brokers appear less competitive due to the disclosure of indirect compensation the mortgage broker channel will be reduced if not eliminated.
Mortgage brokers were initially the scapegoats of the ‘mortgage meltdown’. More recently, however, the broader aspects of derivatives and the role played by Wall Street and the nation’s largest investment banks have come to light. I find it ironic that now, after the creators of toxic assets have been exposed, that the FRB will promulgate rules that make their disclosures deceivingly more appealing to consumers. In the end the rule will hasten the consolidation that is already occurring in this battered real estate economy. There will be fewer choices for the consumer to choose from, moreover; when the consumers do choose their mortgage over sixty percent will choose higher rates and fees thanks to the new disclosures. Way to go FRB – You have successfully reduced, if not eliminated, competition in the mortgage marketplace and virtually guaranteed the mortgage shopping consumer will get it ‘in the end’.