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Take more control over the mortgage closing process with technology

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Closing on a mortgage can be one of the most exciting, and one of the most stressful times of your life. It comes after you’ve chosen your home, scoured the neighborhoods, evaluated the neighboring schools, and exchanged countless pieces of paperwork between your lender, realtor, home inspector, and others. You’ve made offers and finally had them accepted. You’ve been approved for a mortgage, and you have one more step to go before that home is yours: sign a mountain of papers at closing.

Recently, we asked you to tell us about pain points in the mortgage closing process. We also conducted in-depth interviews with consumers like you, realtors, loan officers, attorneys, and others involved at closing to better understand what goes on at the closing table. Through this research, we heard about four major pain points.

Four major pain points

Not enough time to review documents. You told us that you don’t get the paperwork until you arrive at the closing table, where there is pressure to rush through and sign your name over and over – with not enough time to ensure that you understand what you are signing.

Overwhelming stack of paperwork. You told us there are just too many pieces of paper in the stack, making the process of closing on a home daunting and overwhelming. The result is that many of you leave the closing table with a nagging feeling that something hidden in the stack might have long lasting effects on your financial well-being.

Documents are hard to understand. You told us that closing documents are full of legalese and technical jargon, and that you often have little help from others in the closing room to gain understanding.

Errors in the documents. You told us that errors in closing documents can often lead to delays. Even common and seemingly minor errors, such as a misspelled names or forgetting to include your spouse, require closing agents to redo the entire closing package.

Finally, we tested ideas for improvements to the closing process that help you play a more active role in the closing process. Before you sign on the dotted line, we want you to be able to fully understand the terms of your loan, have a chance to carefully review the documents you are signing, and feel empowered to ask the right questions and identify errors in the process.

Piloting a solution

From your comments and our research, it’s clear that the current closing process is not ideal. We identified potential solutions to some of the problems you identified. In particular, ideas for how technology can improve the closing process which we want to test over the coming months. Later this year, we plan to launch an e-closing pilot aimed at encouraging lenders to put you in the driver’s seat of your closing.

Some of our ideas include using technology to:

  • Help explain key terms, the closing process, and important documents
  • Give you more time to review the stack of documents
  • Help you find and fix errors in the documents prior to closing

If you want to learn more about the pilot, or are interested in participating, check out the guidelines and solicitation.

We’re excited about some of the promising technologies in the market today and we’ll keep you updated as we learn more about ways that the closing process can be improved. You can check out the report on the current state of closing for more about what we heard.

If you’re facing a specific problem with any part of the mortgage process, you can also submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

Two new members for our Academic Research Council

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Back in January, we invited applications to fill two vacancies on our Academic Research Council (ARC). The ARC was created to make sure that we hear from a variety of experts with diverse viewpoints, knowledge, and expertise.

We’re pleased to announce the two new members appointed to our ARC are Raphael Bostic from the University of Southern California and Melvin Stephens from the University of Michigan. Learn more about ARC members and their work.

The ARC will next convene on Friday April 25th, 2014 for its annual meeting. You can check out the agenda and learn more about the ARC’s work.

Consumer advisory: Co-signers can cause surprise defaults on your private student loans

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Today, we released a report that describes complaints we received related to the private student loan industry’s practice of placing borrowers in default even when their loans are current and in good standing. We’re also warning consumers that they can avoid surprise defaults by pursuing a co-signer release.

The vast majority of private student loans today have a co-signer (typically a parent or a grandparent). Having a co-signer can often lead to a lower interest rate, which can save you money in the long-term, because the co-signer will have to repay the loan if you don’t.

However, your loan might also contain provisions that allow your student loan servicer to put you in default — even if you’ve been making your payments on time.

That’s because your co-signer is also on the hook for your loan and therefore changes in their behavior can impact your loan, causing your loan to default and making your entire balance due all at once. We’ve received complaints that private student loan servicers are placing borrowers into default when their co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy.

Co-signer release

If you are a co-signer or have a student loan with a co-signer and you are in repayment, you should look into what’s called “co-signer release.” You should consider this option to avoid a surprise default. Both the borrower and co-signer can benefit from obtaining the release.

Many lenders advertise that a co-signer may be released from a private student loan after a certain number of consecutive, timely payments and a credit check to determine if you are eligible to repay the loan on your own. If your lender offers co-signer release, you will want to ask about this benefit and remove your co-signer as soon as you are eligible.

Unfortunately, many student loan servicers do not tell you when you are eligible to have your co-signer released, so you need to ask them how to do this.

To help you get started, we’ve put together sample letters you can edit and send to your student loan servicer. You can download sample letters to send by mail, or you can just cut and paste the text below into the “Send a Message” or “Contact Us” feature when you log into your account on the servicer’s website.

I want more information about how to obtain a release of my co-signer

I am writing to you because I am seeking the release of my co-signer on my loan. Please conduct a review of my account to determine if I am eligible for co-signer release.

If you determine that I am not eligible to have my co-signer released from my loans, please provide an explanation, including the following:

  • What is your current co-signer release policy?
  • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
  • If I am not eligible for co-signer release now, when will I become eligible?
  • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
  • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to release my co-signer?

If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate my account to reflect that I intend to seek co-signer release as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible to have my co-signer released.

In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

Thank you for your cooperation.

I am a co-signer, I want to be released

I am writing to request that I be released from my obligation to repay any loans associated with this account. Please conduct a review of this account and make a determination as to my eligibility to be released from my obligation.

If you determine that I am not eligible, please provide an explanation, including the following:

  • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
  • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
  • What is your current co-signer release policy?
  • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to be released from this obligation?

If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate this account or accounts to reflect that I intend to do so as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible for co-signer release.

In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

Thank you for your cooperation.

We also have other sample letters you can send to your student loan servicer to give payment instructions and others you can send to a student loan debt collector.

Remember, if you’re having a problem with a student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

If you have questions about repaying student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt tool to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about our work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.

Explainer: Federal student loan interest rates to jump

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Right now, many students and families across the country are receiving financial aid offers and deciding how to pay for college. Most students will need to shop for student loans now, and some of you have asked us what the new rates will be. While rates aren’t set in stone yet, interest rates on new federal student loans are expected to jump this July.

We’ve updated our Paying for College tool using our best guess of what the rates will be, so you can have a better estimate of what your monthly payment might be after graduation.

Interest rates on most federal student loans are based on a certain type of bond that the Treasury Department issues, known as the ten-year note. The yield is the rate at which investors charge the federal government for borrowing money. Next month, there will be a Treasury bond auction, and that rate will set federal student loan interest rates.

Here’s what federal student loan interest rates on new loans might look like, compared to this past year.

Current and estimated interest rates on federal student loans

Loan type Interest rate on loans taken out between July 2013 and June 2014 Estimated new rate on loans taken out between July 2014 and June 2015
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (for undergraduate students) 3.86% 5.09%
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for graduate/professional students) 5.41% 6.64%
Direct PLUS Loans (for parents and graduate/professional students) 6.41% 7.64%

Higher rates will mean a higher monthly payment after graduation. You can simulate this on your own by using our Paying for College tool, but here’s a quick summary of the changes.

Estimated monthly payment for every $5,000 in balances entering repayment

Loan type Monthly payment for this year’s rate Monthly payment for next year’s rate (estimated) Total increase over ten years
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (for undergraduate students) $50.29 $53.25 $355.49
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for graduate/professional students) $54.04 $57.13 $370.84
Direct PLUS Loans (for parents and graduate/professional students) $56.55 $59.72 $380.59

Yet many students end up borrowing more than $5,000 for their education. For instance, graduate students borrowed an average of approximately $18,600 in PLUS Loans per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. With interest rates set to go up, many graduate students who borrow after July will pay an additional $1,400 over ten years of repayment for each year they are in school, compared to this year’s rate.

We’ll be sure to update these rates in our tool once they’re finalized. In the meantime, you should use your Financial Aid Shopping Sheet and our Paying for College tool to help you figure out how your school choice might impact your loan payments after graduation.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about the CFPB’s work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.

Choosing a college is a big deal. We can help!

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This month, students across the country will receive college acceptance letters. For many people, the excitement of being one step closer to realizing their dream or reaching a major life milestone is coupled with anxiety about how to pay for it and the prospect of taking on student loan debt.

Compare your financial aid offers now.

To help you navigate these new waters, we’ve just launched a crisp new version of our Paying for College tool kit. Making apples-to-apples comparison of your financial aid offers has never been easier. Now you can compare offers from community college, bachelor’s, certificate, and graduate programs. We’ve incorporated a more user-friendly design and reintroduced the GI Bill calculator, which gives servicemembers the ability to calculate the benefits available to them through the GI Bill and tuition assistance programs.

We also heard from you that you wished our tool would provide information that complemented what schools are providing to students in their financial aid packages. We’re currently piloting a way to do just that. More than 2,000 schools have adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet (developed in partnership with the Department of Education), which they’ll send to prospective students this year. Using this shopping sheet, you’ll be able to compare information, like average debt after graduation, side by side. If you don’t have a financial aid offer, we’ll show you where to find cost info for each school.

If you’re considering student loans to help you pay for school, you’re not alone – many students need loans to cover their full cost of attendance. If you have to take out student loans, comparing your options can help you find the student loan best suited for your needs.

We’re excited for your new adventure, and we know that choosing a college is a big deal.

Oh, and — congratulations!

Explainer: Compensating consumers for Bank of America’s illegal tactics for credit card add-on products

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Today we’re fining Bank of America, N.A. and FIA Card Services, N.A. for unfairly billing consumers for services relating to identity theft protection “add-on” products and for using deceptive marketing and sales practices for credit protection “add-on” products.

We are also ordering Bank of America to refund fees and provide other redress to consumers. Approximately 2.9 million consumers will be receiving or already have received up to $727 million in refunds for fees they paid for these products and services as well as additional redress.

If you’re impacted by the announcement, you don’t have to take any action to receive a credit or check. If you are one of the consumers affected by the order, Bank of America should have already notified you or will notify you directly. If you have questions about whether you are entitled to a refund, you can contact Bank of America.

Who is eligible for compensation?

Nearly 1.4 million consumers have already received or will receive refunds of at least $250 million in fees for the “credit protection” products (Credit Protection Plus and Credit Protection Deluxe). You will receive refunds if you are a Bank of America customer who enrolled in these products at any time over the phone, were charged a fee between October 1, 2010 and March 31, 2013, and either did not activate benefits or who had  a request for benefits denied.

Approximately 1.5 million consumers purchased the “identity theft protection” products (Privacy Guard, PrivacySource, and Privacy Assist) and were improperly billed for services that were not performed. As a result, consumers paid at least $459 million in fees, interest, and over-limit charges for these products without receiving full services. Today’s announcement recognizes the refunds Bank of America has already provided to consumers harmed as a result of the illegal billing practices relating to these identity theft protection products.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in the “identity theft protection” products received refunds if they enrolled in these products between October 2000 and September 2011 but did not receive full credit monitoring services, received only partial credit monitoring and/or credit report retrieval without notice, and/or didn’t receive credit report retrieval benefits.

What do eligible consumers get?

That depends on the product consumers were enrolled in and some other factors.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for less than a year, who made a request for benefits that was denied or closed, or who, complained to the CFPB or to Bank of America stating that they did not authorize enrollment in the product, will receive a refund of all fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013. Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for a year or more and who do not fall within any of the groups described above will receive a refund of 300 days of fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.

Some consumers who were enrolled in “credit protection” product will also receive:

  1. A reduction in charged-off balances due to product fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.
  2. “Credit protection” services for six months at no-cost for consumers enrolled in the product as of March 1, 2013.

Bank of America has already completed reimbursement for the “identity theft protection” eligible consumers, so eligible consumers should have already received refunds. If you have questions about receiving a refund for this product, you can contact Bank of America.

Bank of America is responsible for providing refunds

Watch out for scammers claiming they will get you a refund. When large numbers of consumers get refunds, scammers sometimes pop up. The scammer may charge you a fee or try to steal your personal information. If someone tries to charge you, tries to get you to disclose your personal information, or asks you to cash a check and send a portion to a third party in order to “claim your refund,” it’s a scam. Please call us at (855) 411-CFPB to report the scam.

The CFPB blog aims to facilitate conversations about our work. We want your comments to drive this conversation. Please be courteous, constructive, and on-topic. To help make the conversation productive, we encourage you to read our comment policy before posting. Comments on any post remain open for seven days from the date it was posted.