How to Recognize Predatory Mortgage Lenders
The bulk of mortgage lenders in the marketplace are consumer-oriented and comply with state/federal laws. These lenders operate within the scope of real estate law and ethically. However, there are lenders who prey on the naive and uninformed. They take advantage of people who don't know how to tell the honest mortgage lenders from the predatory types.
Just like you wouldn't buy a watch from some character in the street with bulging pockets, for example, you should not respond to unsolicited marketing efforts such as:
- Flyers thrown on your doorstep, stuck to the windshield of your car or tacked to a telephone pole
- Direct mail from companies you've never heard of before
- Telemarketers who try to pressure you over the phone
There are legitimate places to find a mortgage. However, like with any profession that involves huge sums of money, complicated products, and unsophisticated consumers, there is a potential for fraud. How can you tell if a lender is a scammer?
Here Are a Few Warning Signs
- The representative comes off as a fast-talker and smooth operator
You might get the impression that the discussion is more of a spiel that has been repeated so many times it's now rote and not a conversation.
- The rates and fees appear to be unusually high
Ask to have your FICO score explained to you and compare rates among other lenders. Call another lender and ask about that particular rate.
- The lender is using high pressure tactics with you, urging you to sign NOW
If you are refinancing, you have three days to change your mind. If you are buying a home and obtaining a purchase loan, ask what happens if you do not immediately "lock" your loan rate.
- You are told that "bad credit is no problem"
Credit is always an issue. Good credit with high FICO scores means you will get favorable terms on your loan. Bad credit might prevent you from getting any loan. Lenders who specialize in making loans to buyers with bad credit are known as sub-prime lenders and do not offer attractive rates.
- The lender encourages you to lie on your loan application and claims "it is done all the time"
Do not sign blank documents and do not make false statements on your loan application. It is against the law to defraud a lender. Mortgage fraud is punishable by the FBI.
- You are pressured to accept a risky sounding loan you do not understand nor want
Most folks have some kind of idea how much they feel comfortable paying per month on a mortgage. Do not agree to make higher payments than you can afford to pay. Don't rely on "market swings" either up or down as to whether you can afford to make a payment. It is OK to choose to make a lower mortgage payment and take out a smaller mortgage.
- The lender pretends to care about you but you have a funny feeling about the pretense
Listen to your intuition. It is asking you to pay attention to this nagging feeling that something is not right. Trust yourself.
- You receive assurances that the loan being offered to you will solve all your financial troubles
Nothing will solve all your financial woes until you stop spending money. There is nothing magical about a mortgage, and nobody is doing you any favors in this business. Paying off your credit cards through a mortgage extends your woes over a longer period of time, and it's likely to happen again.
- Only one lender is offering you a loan and claims nobody else will lend to you
Talk to other lenders. Obtain a copy of your credit report.
- At the closing table, all your fees and charges are different than what you initially agreed to pay
If this happens to you, pull out your estimate and ask for an explanation. Continue to ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers. If you are still suspicious and do not receive satisfactory answers, get up and leave the closing table. Don't close the transaction until you speak with a lawyer.
Help put these crooks out of business. Report predatory lenders to the Federal Trade Commission and/or your state attorney general.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.