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mortgage servicing

Recession Relief Guide recommends Lending Tree for ethical & responsible mortgage and refinance lending

When you apply for a home mortgage, you may think that the lender will hold and service your loan until you pay it off or you sell your house. That's often not the case. In today's market, loans and the rights to service them often are bought and sold.

A home may be one of the most expensive purchases you ever make, so it's important to know who is handling your payments and that your mortgage account is properly credited. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants you to know what a mortgage servicer does and what your rights are.

Mortgage Servicers: Their Responsibilities to You

A mortgage servicer is responsible for collecting your monthly loan payments and crediting your account. A servicer also handles your escrow account, if you have one.

Escrow Accounts
An escrow account is a fund held by your servicer into which you pay money to cover charges like property taxes and homeowners insurance. The escrow payments typically are included as part of your monthly mortgage payments. The servicer pays your taxes and insurance as they become due during the year. If you do not have an escrow account, you are responsible for paying your taxes and insurance and budgeting accordingly.

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the major law covering escrow accounts. If your mortgage servicer administers an escrow account for you, the servicer is generally required to make escrow payments for taxes, insurance, and any other charges in a timely manner. Within 45 days of establishing the account, the servicer must give you a statement that clearly itemizes the estimated taxes, insurance premiums, and other anticipated charges to be paid over the next 12 months, and the expected dates and totals of those payments.

Under RESPA, the mortgage servicer also is required to give you a free annual statement that details the activity of your escrow account. This statement shows your account balance and reflects payments for your property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other charges.

Transfer of Servicing
If your loan is about to be sold, you generally get two notices: one from your current mortgage servicer; the other from the new servicer. Usually, your current servicer must notify you at least 15 days before the effective date of the transfer, unless you received a written transfer notice at settlement. The effective date is when the first mortgage payment is due at the new servicer's address. The new servicer must notify you within 15 days after the transfer has occurred.

The notices must include:

  • the name and address of the new servicer.
  • the date the current servicer will stop accepting your mortgage payments.
  • the date the new servicer will begin accepting your mortgage payments.
  • toll-free or collect-call telephone numbers, for the current and new mortgage servicer, for information about the transfer.
  • whether you can continue any optional insurance, such as credit life or disability insurance; what action, if any, you must take to maintain coverage; and whether the insurance terms will change.
  • a statement that the transfer will not affect any terms or conditions of your mortgage, except those directly related to the servicing of the loan. For example, if your contract says you were allowed to pay property taxes and insurance premiums on your own, the new servicer cannot demand that you establish an escrow account.
  • There is a 60-day grace period after the transfer: during this time you cannot be charged a late fee if you mistakenly send your mortgage payment to the old servicer. In addition, the fact that your new servicer may have received your payment late as a result cannot be reported to a credit bureau.

Posting Payments
Some consumers have complained that they've been charged late fees, even when they know they made their payments on time. To help protect yourself, keep good records of what you've paid, including any billing statements, canceled checks, or bank account statements. You also may check your account history online if your servicer's Web site has this feature. If you have a dispute, continue to make your mortgage payments, but challenge the servicing in writing (see Sample Complaint Letter to Lender), and keep a copy of the letter and any enclosures for your records. Send your correspondence by certified mail, and request a return receipt. Or send it by fax, and keep a copy of the transmittal confirmation.

Force Placed Insurance
It's important to maintain the required property insurance on your home. If you don't, your servicer can buy insurance on your behalf. This type of policy is known as force placed insurance; it usually is more expensive than typical insurance; and it provides less coverage. The primary purpose of a force placed policy is to protect the mortgage holder, not the property owner.

Review all correspondence you receive from your mortgage servicer. Your mortgage servicer may request that you provide a copy of your property insurance policy. Respond promptly to requests regarding property insurance, and keep copies of all documents you send to your mortgage servicer.

If you believe there's a paperwork error and that your coverage is adequate, provide a copy of your insurance policy to your servicer. Once the servicer corrects the error, removes the force placed coverage, and refunds the cost of the force placed policy, make sure that any late fees or interest you were charged as a result of the coverage also are removed.

Review your billing statements carefully to make sure that any fees the servicer charges are legitimate. For example, the fees may have been authorized by the mortgage contract or by you to pay for a service. If you do not understand what the fees are for, send a written inquiry and ask for an itemization and explanation of the fees. Also, if you call your mortgage servicer to request a service, such as faxing copies of loan documents, make sure you ask whether there is a fee for the service and what it is.

Inquiries and Disputes
Under RESPA, your mortgage servicer must respond promptly to written inquiries, known as qualified written requests (see Sample Complaint Letter to Lender). If you believe you've been charged a penalty or late fee that you don't owe, or if you have other problems with the servicing of your loan, contact your servicer in writing. Be sure to include your account number and clearly explain why you believe your account is incorrect. Your inquiry should not be just a note on the payment coupon supplied by your servicer, but should be sent separately to the customer service address.

Within 20 business days of receiving your inquiry, the servicer must send you a written response acknowledging it. Within 60 business days, the servicer either must correct your account or determine that it is accurate. The servicer must send you a written notice of the action it took and why, along with the name and telephone number of someone you can contact for additional assistance.

Do not subtract any disputed amount from your mortgage payment. Some mortgage servicers might refuse to accept what they consider to be partial payments. They might return your check and charge you a late fee, or claim that your mortgage is in default and start foreclosure proceedings.



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