Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 20, 2018

Rate-Lock Lock Out

By David Reiss

photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Mick Mulvaney plays against type by signing off on a Consent Order with a billion dollar penalty for Wells Fargo. The Order stated that Wells, among other things, charged “fees for rate-lock extensions in connection with residential-mortgage lending” and violated the law when it “unfairly failed to follow the mortgage-interest-rate-lock process it explained to some prospective borrowers…” (1)  Reading the details of what happened gives a sense of what happens when a large financial institutions runs amok, making consumers feel like they are in some absurd movie where a malevolent force is out to get them and they don’t know why.  The Order states that Wells “inappropriately charged borrowers rate-lock-extension fees that should have been absorbed by Respondent.” (5-6) Here are some highlights of how such a practice develops in a large financial institution:

13. In May 2012, in response to processing delays, Respondent stopped charging any Extension Fees to borrowers. Instead, Respondent extended rate-lock periods without charging borrowers a fee.

14. In September 2013, Respondent enacted a new nationwide policy under which borrowers would pay the Extension Fee in certain circumstances.

15. Respondent’s September 2013 policy change provided that if a rate-lock extension was made necessary by borrower-caused delays, or by certain delays related to the property itself, the borrower could be charged an Extension Fee; if there were lender-caused delays, however, Respondent would extend the rate-lock period without charging borrowers a fee, as it had done since May 2012.

16. Rate-lock choices may materially affect how much it costs consumers to get a loan. Respondent expected its loan officers to explain to prospective borrowers all of the available rate-lock options, to help borrowers select the option best suited to their needs, and to clearly explain its rate-lock process to prospective borrowers.

17. During the Rate-Lock Relevant Period, Respondent trained its loan officers to inform prospective borrowers that they would be responsible for paying Extension Fees under circumstances where the delay was caused by the borrower or related to the property itself, including when the borrower does not timely return necessary documentation, the borrower disputes a low appraisal, previously undisclosed liens are uncovered, sellers or builders delay the process, the sale is not timely approved by a condo project or co-op board, or the borrower’s credit score changes.

18. Within days of rolling out the new policy, Respondent acknowledged in internal communications that its guidelines for its loan officers were inadequate. Respondent instructed employees that Extension Fees would be charged based on the factor primarily responsible for the delay, without further guidance as to what that meant.

19. Almost three years after a 2013 internal audit first identified the risks for consumer harm relating to improperly assessed Extension Fees, an October 2016 internal audit found that Respondent inconsistently applied its policy and charged borrowers Extension Fees in situations where Respondent was responsible for the delay in the loan’s closing. (6-8)

Some think that large corporations are not prone to the same sort of byzantine policies and procedures that a large government agency is. The subprime crisis, the foreclosure crisis and even now, post-crisis, it has been clearly demonstrated time and again that they are. If that does not prove the value of the CFPB to the American consumer, I don’t know what does.

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