REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 18, 2017

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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January 18, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Hidden Mortgage Fees

By David Reiss

photo by Tania Liu

TheStreet.com quoted me in Hidden Fees Cost Consumers Billions: Which Ones Are the Worst? It opens,

Consumers are notoriously combative over high product and sales fees, and who can blame them?

Fees for common items like mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts and online deliverables, among many others, can really add up, and do hit consumers hard in the pocketbook.

That goes double for so-called “hidden fees” – shadowy charges on goods and services that buyers usually don’t know about.

A new study by the Washington, D.C.-based National Economic Council shows that Americans lose “billions of dollars” from such hidden fees. Another study of communications firms like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast by the Consumer Federation of America pegs hidden fee costs at $60 billion annually.

Few hidden fees are favored by consumer advocates, but some are worse than others.

“My household bills look very much like those of a typical consumer – two cell phones, cable, broadband and landline telephone,” says Dr. Mark Cooper, the CFA’s Director of Research and author of the communications industry report. “Hidden fees – excluding the price of the service, taxes, and governmental fees – added about 25% to my total bill.”

The CFA’s “Hidden Fees” report documents a pervasive pattern of abuse across many industries, adds Cooper, “but hidden fees on communications services are particularly troubling because these digital services have become absolute necessities in the American household.”
Besides cable and internet service costs, which routinely stand atop the list of industry offenders, what other hidden fees continue to haunt American consumers?

Here’s a quick list:

*     *     *

Mortgage fees – Outside of the cable/telecom arena, the mortgage sector may well boast the most hidden fees. “When applying for a mortgage, a borrower can be hit with all kinds of obscure fees like processing fees, notary fees, courier fees, even fees for sending emails,” says David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. ” Before paying the mortgage application fee, the borrower should ask whether any of the fees are waivable. If they are charged by the lender, as opposed to a third party like a government agency, they may very well be waivable.”

Consumers should be on the lookout for hidden fees, across the board. Some solid due diligence can keep a few more bucks in your pocket and strike a blow against companies with fee programs that operate in the shadows, time and time again.

But as of right now, those hidden fees are paying off for companies, and at U.S. consumers’ expense.

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January 18, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

January 17, 2017

Mnuchin, When No One Is Watching

By David Reiss

Alexander Hamilton

My latest column for The Hill is Hamilton Acted in Good Faith. Will Steven Mnuchin Do The Same? I can only blog the first hundred words, so click on the link for the rest of it:

UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Steven Mnuchin, another leading citizen of Los Angeles, is now in the spotlight as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Running the Treasury Department requires financial know-how, which this former Goldman Sachs banker has in spades. But it also requires character, as a large part of the Treasury secretary’s job is to embody the good faith that the American people want the rest of the world to have in us.

Click here to keep reading.

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January 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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January 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

January 16, 2017

To The Mountaintop!

By David Reiss

1200px-1-19-Martin-Luther-King-ftr

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the opening of his last speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop:

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

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January 16, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has received a settlement offer from real estate developer Lobsang Dargey in a $136 million EB-5 fraud case playing out in Washington federal court, signaling a possible resolution to the high-profile case.
  • Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse AG and other megabanks on Wednesday urged a New York state judge to ditch multiple lawsuits over nearly $2 billion worth of residential mortgage-backed securities brought by a stand-in for defunct Belgian banking giant Fortis Bank NV/SA
  • Moody’s Corp. said Friday it has agreed to pay $864 million in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and 21 states over the ratings agency’s work on residential mortgage backed securities and other products whose crashes led to the financial crisis.

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January 16, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

January 13, 2017

Trust for Trump

By David Reiss

photo by David R. Tribble

US News & World Report quoted me in Here’s What We Know About Donald Trump’s Trust Fund. It opens,

With all the talk about how Donald Trump will be handling his vast business empire as he assumes the presidency, some questions were finally answered this week, and this much is clear: Donald Trump is putting his business assets in a trust.

“Through the trust agreement, he has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons Don and Eric, and a longtime Trump executive, Alan Weiselberg,” says Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for the president-elect.

But what does that mean?

What is a trust to begin with? A trust is a legal structure with three main parties: The trustor, trustee and beneficiary. The trustor gives another party, the trustee, the right to manage the specified assets for the benefit of its designated beneficiaries.

“According to Trump, his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as a business associate, would be the trustees. After transferring the assets to the trust, Trump could then be a beneficiary of the trust,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. “The trustees administer the affairs of the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries. The beneficiary receives the income from the trust or the property within the trust.”

Trump has previously said his children will be the primary financial beneficiaries of the trust, but Trump made it clear that he planned on returning to the Trump Organization when his presidency is over. At that point, it’s possible Trump could have a fat check waiting for him, depending on the trust’s structure.

“The trust’s income or property could be doled out on an ongoing basis or deferred to some future point in time, depending on the terms of the trust,” Reiss says.

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January 13, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments