Effective January 1, 2010, Congress instituted new rules regarding the Good Faith Estimate. Geared toward shutting down predatory lending practices, the rules make it nearly impossible for a mortgage company to quote one set of fees at application and deliver something different at closing.
While the aim is good, the law of unintended consequences has already come into play. Shopping for the best mortgage will now be more difficult and more complicated.
I have often complained about the old Good Faith Estimate and I agree that a change was important. The form had to meet some basic standards, but overall, comparing apples to apples was not easy if you didn’t know what to look for. The old Good Faith Estimate itemized all of the fees associated with a loan closing, including third party charges ultimately not determined by the lender. Lenders could make their bottom line appear artificially attractive by estimating third party fees low. Also, lenders used a variety of confusing, sometimes downright deceptive terms to hide the true cost of their own services. For example, while ‘Tax Service Fee’ sounds like a government imposed charge, it could be $50, $500 or really any number the lender felt like imposing. Maybe some of the fee actually was paid to request tax return transcripts, but I routinely saw my competitors charging outlandish amounts which clearly were not legitimate third party costs.
For this reason, I encouraged my clients to isolate the lender fees and compare those against other quotes, without regard to the varying estimates for third party charges. If the loan officer refused to itemize the actual lender fees, I advised people to walk away.
The new Good Faith Estimate is great in that the true lender cost is reflected very clearly and separated from third party fees. It is now referred to as the ‘cost of origination’. While I am happy with this change, there is a fundamental flaw to the new GFE: lenders are not going to issue them until you select them as your lender. This is because the lender now has a legal responsibility to be so precise that it is simply impractical to issue the form before you file a full application and have a property officially under contract.
The good news here is that once you have selected a lender, made your application and gone under contract, you will receive a Good Faith Estimate that will be amazingly close to the final number at closing. However, since it is impractical for the lender to issue a GFE ahead of time, how can you really shop for the best deal before making a commitment?
Unfortunately lenders will now provide informal quotes that don’t have to meet any government standards. At least the old Good Faith Estimate looked fairly similar from lender to lender. Now, borrowers are going to be faced with such a variety of quote sheets that it will be that much more difficult to compare them.
Despite the problems the new GFE causes with initial disclosure from your lender, you can still exercise control over the quote process in much the same way I recommended before January 1. While the quotes will look different and while they might not be a very good reflection on the actual costs, you can still demand that your lender tell you what they charge.
My main concern with this whole new process is that there was at least some regulation of the old Good Faith Estimate. Now, as a consumer, you will simply have to exert your knowledge as power and show your lender you are aware of the recent changes. Let them know you are also aware that you will always have the ability to move to another lender if their non-regulated initial quote looks much more attractive than the formal GFE.