The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to “whip the mortgage servicing industry into shape,” as this post on The Consumerist puts it, and such action is long overdue. Mortgage servicers have been the choke point in the mortgage mess, often costing people their homes because of their inefficiency, inaction and indifference. The CFPB wants to increase transparency and accountability among servicers, which take people’s mortgage payments and pass them along, minus a small cut, to the loans’ owners. Here’s how CFPB head Richard Cordray put it in a speech today to Operation HOPE:
“This industry has never had a requirement, or a strong incentive, to meet the needs of consumers. Even before the crisis, there were already problems with bad practices and sloppy recordkeeping. When the financial crisis hit, however, things got much worse…And instead of investing in new personnel and processes, too many mortgage servicers took short-cuts that made things far worse for homeowners in trouble.
Picture every bad customer service experience you have ever had: calls going unanswered, glacially slow processes, mistakes made and not fixed, a kaleidoscopic cast of human beings who never seem to deal with you more than once, your paperwork submitted and lost repeatedly. Now, multiply that mountain of frustration exponentially, and you can begin to get an inkling of the scope of the problems that Americans face: house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community.
And it is not just consumers who suffer. Mortgage investors do not benefit from a broken system where servicers do not fulfill their obligations or make reasonable efforts to mitigate losses. And this failed business model widened the pain of the housing crisis and destroyed an incalculable measure of consumer trust in financial businesses, perhaps in a lasting way.”
Cordray points out that consumers have absolutely no control over which company winds up servicing their loans and can’t walk away from bad service. He quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”
Like everyone else who’s covered the mortgage industry, I’ve heard horror story after horror story from people given the runaround by their mortgage servicers. People have lost their homes, and investors have suffered far worse losses than necessary, because the servicing industry is so messed up.
The CFPB’s proposed rules won’t give people back the homes they’ve already lost, but it could prevent needless foreclosures in the future.