Know Thy Lender

by Dan Krell

To protect the public interest, most professionals involved in real estate transactions in the state of Maryland are licensed. Realtors, title attorneys, real estate appraisers, and insurance agents are all regulated by the State. As of January first loan officers working for mortgage brokers, or as they are now titled mortgage loan originators, are now regulated as well. Loan officers working for federally chartered banks are exempt. The law is the fruition of efforts to help curb the fraud, predatory lending, and other problems that exist in the industry.

Make no mistake, the mortgage industry is already heavily regulated by the Federal Government as well as the State. Mortgage loans that are originated are required to comply with federal regulations such as the Truth in Lending act, regulation Z, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The state of Maryland has additional requirements that need to be met as well.

By licensing mortgage loan originators, the state of Maryland has placed accountability directly on the loan officer. Many are hoping that the new licensing laws will force loan officers to do their due diligence and act responsibly such as when issuing approval letters, loan commitments, or rate locks. Additionally, the new regulations will help curb predatory lending and hopefully reduce settlement table surprises.

Before January first, consumers’ source of recourse was to make complaints against the mortgage company to the Maryland office of Financial Regulation and/or the Maryland Attorney General’s office. Now, an offending loan officer will be held accountable for his/her actions and misdeeds and may face penalties for violations.

Another positive aspect of the new regulations is the limiting of opportunists that come and go when the market is favorable and hopefully weed out those with bad intentions. In addition to a criminal background check and finger printing, requirements for licensure include either three years of experience in the lending industry or the completion of a forty hour “pre-licensing” class.

Although the law went into effect on January 1, 2007, a recent Baltimore Sun article (Md. Warns Loan Officers: Get License, 12/22/2006) stated that many loan originators had not filed for their license and boasted about their intentions of not filing. Maryland regulators are taking this seriously as they are planning to “round up” those violators. The bottom line is, as stated in the article by the deputy commissioner of financial regulation, if someone is talking to the public they need to be licensed.

As a precaution, the Maryland Association of Mortgage Brokers offers these suggestions to consumers: never sign a blank document; read all documents carefully and ask questions and don’t be hurried into signing anything you do not clearly understand; stop the entire transaction if you feel you are not getting clear answers; be wary of telephone or mail solicitations, especially if the promises seem “too good to be true”; do not be pressured into applying for more money than you need; even a small increase in the total loan can result in big interest payments over time; get copies of all loan documents, especially anything you have signed.

If you are unsure of your loan officer’s license status you can check with the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (www.dllr.state.md.us).

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally pubished in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of 1/2/2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell .