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A final rule that makes mortgage disclosure better for consumers

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Today, we’re issuing the TILA-RESPA final rule. This rule improves the way consumers receive information about mortgage loans, both when they apply and when they’re getting ready to close. Alongside the rule, we’re publishing information to help industry understand what the requirements are, such as how to fill out the disclosure forms. Helping with that understanding will be an ongoing process. We’re also publishing information about the project that got us here and what the new rule means for consumers.

We want it to be easier for consumers to shop effectively for mortgages and to make the decisions that work for them. We want consumers who are confident in the information they receive, the lenders they work with, and their ability to make good comparisons. This rule is a key part of that effort, so we’ve spent a lot of time testing the new disclosures with consumers who will receive them as well as industry who will have to explain them to consumers. The results of that testing show that our new disclosures make information clearer and easier to use.

What does the rule do?

The final rule contains new rules and forms for two disclosure forms consumers receive in the process of getting a mortgage loan: the Loan Estimate, which comes three business days after application, and the Closing Disclosure, which comes three business days before closing on the loan. These disclosures are required by the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The new forms integrate existing disclosures and implement some new disclosure requirements from the Dodd-Frank Act.

The rule also offers some more protections for consumers. For example, consumers must receive their Closing Disclosure three business days before closing on the loan so they have time to review it. The final rule also limits the circumstances in which consumers will have to pay more for settlement services than the estimate they received.

These disclosures and requirements will be effective October 3, 2015.

What’s new about the disclosures?

For most homebuyers, a home is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s also the most complicated financially, with a lot of paperwork to review and understand. The new forms simplify and clarify a lot of information. Essentially, our forms work to allow consumers to compare loans and make better informed decisions.

The new forms are shorter than the forms under current law. Our Loan Estimate is three pages long; the existing federal disclosures it replaces run at least seven pages. Our Closing Disclosure is five pages long and combines five pages of old forms, plus new disclosures required by the Dodd-Frank Act. This is only some of the information consumers get; lenders, investors, other agencies, and states require other documents. We are working with these other parties to figure out how to reduce the paperwork burden further.

But length isn’t the only factor. The documents need to be easy to understand and use. If we reduced page count but increased confusion, we did the wrong thing. We adopted a user-centered design process in creating these forms that made us confident we could clarify as we streamlined. It turns out we were right: the public made us better at our work.

How do we know they work better?

After we proposed the rule that would have required the new forms, we worked with Kleimann Communication Group to conduct additional qualitative testing as well as a quantitative validation study to measure how well the forms work. Before beginning the study, based on the comments we received on that proposal, we made a few changes to make the forms even better for consumers. These modified versions were the ones tested in the study. Today, we’ve published a report on the study, including its methodology, but what wowed us, and what we want to share here, is the results, which are striking.

We asked participants to answer questions on a written test about a sample mortgage. Those who used our new forms provided more correct answers than those who reviewed the current forms, an improvement of 28.8 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.7 percentage points. Put another way, our new forms performed significantly better than the current forms.

These results are consistent when we break down the questions by different variables in the study, such as identifying numbers from one loan or comparing two loans, experienced or inexperienced mortgage consumers, reviewing a fixed rate or an interest-only adjustable rate loan, or focusing on interest rates or on payments. Which is to say: we are confident we didn’t end up with proposed disclosures that work well for one kind of mortgage loan experience but are confusing for others.

The testing showed that it’s not just that people could understand the new disclosures; they could talk about them, too. People who used the new forms could explain why they made choices they did and offered more comments about their choices than people who used the existing forms. This suggests the new forms may help people articulate their thoughts more clearly. That could mean better discussions with spouses, financial advisers, realtors, and others who help consumers in the process. It may mean more than just better financial results; it may mean a better shopping experience.

What comes next

The next step on the TILA-RESPA rule is developing an implementation support effort. We’re already working on this. Look for information soon that helps industry understand how to comply with the new rules, what they need to do to prepare, and more.

In January, the Title XIV rules become effective. Those rules codified many lending and servicing practices that help consumers and prohibited many practices that tend to get them in trouble. We’re also beginning to develop tools focused on consumers that can help them shop for their homes.

These three areas of work – requiring good information, requiring good practices, and offering useful tools – create the foundation for a better homebuying experience, one in which consumers understand prices and risks and have the clarity they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Updated on July 27, 2015 to include the new effective date of October 3, 2015 for the Know Before You Owe disclosure rule.

Update: Save the date, Boston!

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Join us for a field hearing in Boston on Know Before You Owe: Mortgages. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, November 20 at 11 a.m. EST at the following location:

Back Bay Grand
Back Bay Events Center
180 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116

The event will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray, as well as testimony from consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public.

This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP.

To RSVP
Email cfpb.events@cfpb.gov with:

  • Your full name
  • Your organizational affiliation (if any)

Let us know if you need a special accommodation to participate.

See you there!

Save the date, Boston!

By

Join us for a field hearing in Boston on Know Before You Owe: Mortgages. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, November 20 at 11 a.m. EST. More information about the event will follow.

The event will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray, as well as testimony from consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public.

This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP.

To RSVP
Email cfpb.events@cfpb.gov with:

  • Your full name
  • Your organizational affiliation (if any)

Let us know if you need a special accommodation to participate.

See you there!

More than 500 colleges agree to adopt financial aid shopping sheet

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Cross posted from the Department of Education. We were proud to work with the Department of Education on this Know Before You Owe Project.

By Arne Duncan

I am pleased to announce that more than 500 colleges and universities (.xls), enrolling more than 2.5 million undergraduate students (thirteen percent of all undergrads), have committed to adopting the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet during the 2013-2014 school year.

The adoption of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a big win for students already attending these institutions and those who are considering enrolling. The Shopping Sheet provides a standardized award letter allowing students to easily compare financial aid packages and make informed decisions on where to attend college. Students and their families now have a clear, concise way to see the cost of a particular school.

The Obama administration introduced the Shopping Sheet in July, and to coincide with the release, I sent a letter to college and university presidents asking them to adopt the Shopping Sheet as part of their financial aid awards starting in the 2013-14 school year.

I applaud the institutions that have agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet, and hope more colleges and universities follow their example in offering students and families an easy-to-read award letter that delivers the bottom line on college costs.

Learn more about the Shopping Sheet here, and, if you’re an institution interested in adopting the Shopping Sheet for your students, or have questions about adopting it, please contact ShoppingSheet@ed.gov.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education.

Explainer: Why did it take 1,099 pages to propose a three-page mortgage disclosure?

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Dear CFPB,

Recently, I saw your notice of proposed rulemaking to combine and simplify existing mortgage disclosures. It’s 1,099 pages long! Why does it take so many pages to create something that’s supposed to be easy to use and understand?

Sincerely,
Interested in your regulations

Dear Interested,

This is a great question, one you’re not alone in asking — 1,099 is a lot of pages, as those of us who were involved in writing them can attest.

Let’s start with some background. Currently, two federal laws – the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) – mandate that consumers receive disclosures of certain information about mortgage loans. The Dodd-Frank Act required the CFPB to propose a rule to combine the TILA and RESPA disclosures.

If you want to see the new combined disclosures, combine and simplify existing mortgage disclosures check them out here. If you want to see what the proposal means for you, we’ve provided summaries, one on what it would mean for consumers and one with more technical detail.

You said “propose a rule to combine the disclosures” instead of just “propose combined disclosures.” Why?
It’s an important distinction. The rule explains how we would expect industry to use the disclosures: when to issue them, how they apply to different loans, what various terms mean, etc.

And that proposed rule is 1,099 pages?
Actually, no. We are not proposing 1,099 pages of new regulations. That page count is for the notice of the proposed rule, not the rule. Like notices of proposed rulemaking issued by other agencies (particularly the Federal Reserve Board), our proposal consists of three basic parts: (1) the preamble explaining the proposal; (2) the text of the proposed regulations; and (3) guidance on how to comply with those regulations.

In terms of pages, the new regulations are only a small part. Most of the pages explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. As required by law, we analyze the costs and benefits of the proposal for consumers and industry. We also provide thorough guidance on how to comply including samples of completed forms, which the industry requested during our outreach and Small Business Review Panel process. Because of the variability of mortgage loan and real estate transactions, industry wanted specific guidance for many different potential scenarios. This added to the page count.

Here’s how the notice breaks down:

Content Pages
Preamble
  • Directions on how to submit comments
  • Summary of the proposed rule
  • Overview of the mortgage market and the mortgage shopping process
  • Summary of 43 years of TILA and RESPA mortgage disclosure regulation
  • Summary of the Dodd-Frank Act provisions requiring the Bureau to combine the TILA and RESPA mortgage disclosures and related Dodd-Frank Act mortgage rulemakings
  • Summary of the Bureau’s outreach, disclosure testing, and Small Business Review Panel
  • Statement of the Bureau’s legal authority
  • Detailed explanations of the reasons for each aspect of the proposed rule and requests for comment
  • Analyses of the costs and benefits of the proposed rule for consumers and industry, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act (as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act), and the Paperwork Reduction Act
684
Proposed amendments to regulations
  • New rules
  • Technical and conforming amendments to existing rules
209
Proposed guidance regarding compliance with the amended regulations
205
Signature page
1
TOTAL
1,099

The preamble is long.
It is. The preamble provides context for the proposed forms and regulatory changes. The mortgage market is big, and mortgage disclosure regulation has 43 years of history. Also, before writing the rule, we spent a lot of time talking to industry and consumers and analyzing costs and benefits. That’s a lot of context, and that means a long preamble.

Why bother with all this context?
First, some of it is required by law. Second, we believe that part of our commitment to open government is providing more rather than less information about our work. Finally, we want your comments to help us understand the market better, and providing context can lead to more informative comments. Explaining what we considered in writing the proposal makes it easier to craft specific responses or to draw our attention to something you think we’ve missed. Comments that provide new insight or information can be the ones that have the greatest impact on what we do next.

That leaves 415 pages. Only part of that is new rules, though. What else is left?
The technical and conforming amendments make sure the new rules don’t conflict with existing rules, that they make the right cross-references, etc. This actually accounts for more than half of the proposed regulatory language.

The proposed guidance explains what certain regulatory language means in context. For example, the phrase “within three business days” appears a lot in this notice, as in: a creditor must deliver the loan estimate disclosure “within three business days” of application. But what counts as a business day? If a bank is closed the Friday before an Independence Day that falls on Saturday, does that Friday count as a business day? (Answer for purposes of delivery of this disclosure: yes.) Providing guidance that clarifies issues like these can save time, energy, and costs for both industry and regulators.

And the signature gets its own page?
Yes. We don’t expect a lot of comments on that page.

So where can I comment on this notice of proposed rulemaking?
First, we hope you’ll take a look at the Know Before You Owe project that helped us develop the proposed disclosures. Then, review the rule and submit your comments at Regulations.gov.