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Know Before You Owe: preparing to finalize the new mortgage disclosure forms

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Two and a half years ago, we began a line of work we call Know Before You Owe. The work that we did as part of that project helped lead us to the TILA-RESPA final rule we issued Wednesday. Among other things, that rule requires new mortgage disclosures: a Loan Estimate the consumer gets when applying for a mortgage, and a Closing Disclosure when the consumer is ready to close on the mortgage. Today we’re looking back at the project that helped get us here.

What is Know Before You Owe?

When you buy a financial product or service, you should understand the terms you’re offered before you sign on the dotted line. You should be able to compare different products effectively and make the right choices for yourself and your family. And the information you use to make those decisions should be clear and easy to understand.

This information is usually presented in writing, in forms like disclosures, contracts, and offer letters. We believe that the best way to make sure this information is clear is for the people who actually have to use the information to help us design them. So that’s exactly what we asked people to do. We call this project Know Before You Owe.

How does it apply to mortgages?

We started Know Before You Owe in May 2011 with mortgage disclosures. In the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress directed us to combine the existing disclosures you get when you apply for and close on a mortgage: the Truth in Lending disclosures, the Good Faith Estimate, and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. These disclosures contain some of the basic facts about home loans, and they should help you pick the right mortgage product for you. But they have overlapping information and complicated terms, and they can be just plain difficult to understand.

The idea is to create a single, simpler set of forms so that when you shop for a mortgage, and then again when you close on one, you can understand the basic information you need to pick the right mortgage loan for you.

Over the course of about a year, we qualitatively tested the forms with consumers, lenders, and settlement agents across the country to see how people would use the forms. We saw how they understood different types of mortgages, different terms, and different versions of the forms. We supplemented this this qualitative testing by posting the forms here on consumerfinance.gov and asking people to weigh in. Over the course of the project, we received more than 27,000 comments that helped us improve the disclosures we proposed.

What’s the final rule all about?

In July of last year, we proposed the rule that would require the new forms. As expected, we got a lot more comments: more than 2,800 of them. Since the proposal, we’ve been reviewing these comments to improve the rule. We’ve also conducted a quantitative validation study with about 850 consumers in 20 locations across the country. The study compared our new forms against the existing forms. We conducted additional qualitative testing. And we reviewed what information you told us we should add to the rule to make compliance easier.

The last big milestone in getting to a final rule was … issuing the rule, which we did last Thursday. The rule we submitted to the Federal Register had a lot of information and instruction about the new disclosures: what needs to be in them; what kinds of loans and which lenders need to use them; when to start using the new forms; and more. Along with the new rule, the notice contains information about the testing, analysis, and other work we did to develop the rule. And we posted a number of other things to help people understand the rule: what it means for consumers and for industry, additional testing results, and more.

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