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CFPB to Mortgage Servicers: The Shell Game Is Over

Charlene Crowell, Special to The Informer | 3/5/2014, 3 p.m.
Charlene Crowell

In a Feb. 19 speech before the nation’s largest association representing real estate finance, Steven Antonakes, Deputy Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), updated the Bureau’s recent achievements before addressing how new mortgage servicing standards will be implemented.

Since CFPB began operations, the Bureau has:

Returned more than $750 million to consumers as of September 2013 and issued fines totaling $81.5 million to entities that violated consumer laws;

Mandated an additional $2 billion in foreclosure relief; and Received more than 289,000 complaints. An average of 4,900 mortgage complaints per month is second only to the 5,900 average filed on debt collection.

Yet, the real focus of Antonakes’ address focused on mortgage servicers. He said, “When it comes to servicing, consumers have little choice in the matter. After a borrower chooses a lender and takes on a mortgage, the responsibility for managing that loan can be transferred to another servicer without any so-so from the borrower. So if consumers are dissatisfied with their servicer, they have no opportunity to switch over to another provider.”

Although consumers choose a lender, they do not choose a servicer. That judgment call comes from the originating lender. Mortgage servicers, not loan officers, are responsible for the management of home loans, including crediting monthly loan payments.

During the foreclosure crisis, many troubled homeowners became frustrated with mortgage servicers’ delays and sometimes lack of concern. If a mortgage loan was bundled and sold on the secondary market, servicers changed as well, despite homeowners never being given notice of a change in servicers or new operating terms.

As a result, millions of troubled homeowners were forced to seek the attention and assistance of servicers they did not hire, nor paid. Servicers, on the other hand, were more concerned with meeting expectations of investors and lenders rather than customers. Consequently, if servicers been more responsive to consumers, the infamous ‘dual-tracking’ process would not have been so prevalent. Dual-tracking is the servicer practice of pursuing foreclosure at the same time that a troubled homeowner was seeking to modify or refinance their loan. The unfortunate consequence for affected homeowners was that they would learn of a foreclosure filing, not knowing that their servicer pursued dual interests.

CFPB’s Deputy Director Antonakes chose his audience well. The nation’s mortgage servicers manage a nearly $10 trillion portfolio for millions of American homeowners. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) that invited Antonakes to speak represents the entire real estate finance industry in legislative and regulatory issues. Its influence is based on a nationwide network of 44 state associations and 2,200 member companies that together employ 280,000 people.

To the stakeholders assembled, Antonakes issued a warning that was as clear as it was direct:

“Servicing transfers where the new servicers are not honoring existing permanent or trial modifications will not be tolerated. There will be no more shell games where the first servicer says the transfer ended all of its responsibility to consumers and the second servicer says it got a data dump missing critical documents.”