Dirt Lawyers: Beware of Marketing Services Agreements

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beware pumpkinsThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is scrutinizing Marketing Services Agreements (MSAs) in a way that appears to be contrary to decades of HUD guidance. In addition to a significant number of enforcement actions involving MSAs, the agency issued Compliance Bulletin 2015-05 on October 8 which casts doubt about whether the CFPB would ever approve an MSA.

CFPB Richard Cordray was quoted:  “We are deeply concerned about how marketing services agreements are undermining important consumer protections against kickbacks. Companies do not seem to be recognizing the extent of the risks posed by implementing and monitoring these agreements within the bounds of the law.”

The bulletin began with a seminar message: “The Bureau has received numerous inquiries and whistleblower tips from industry participants describing the harm that can stem from the use of MSAs, but has not received similar input suggesting the use of those agreements benefit either consumers or industry.”

The Bureau’s position appears to be that MSAs serve no useful purpose.

Let’s look at the background. First, the prohibition against kickbacks: Section 8(a) of RESPA prohibits giving or accepting “any fee, kickback or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or a party of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.” Second, the carve out that MSA participants have relied upon: Section 8(c)(2) provides “(n)othing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the payment of bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed.”

Based on years of HUD guidance and legal advice from industry authorities, many lenders, real estate agencies, law firms, title agencies and other providers have routinely entered into agreements to pay each other marketing fees. The entities often share office space as well as sophisticated marketing efforts.

The advice of HUD and the experts was, generally:

  • don’t tie the relationship or compensation to sales, referrals or productivity;
  • limit the services to marketing;
  • avoid exclusivity provisions;
  • value marketing services objectively. This requirement was often the sticking point because shared marketing campaigns are difficult to value. Some experts suggested hiring auditing or actuarial companies; and
  • track the services in the event proof is needed.

The bulletin suggested that the kickbacks and referral fees associated with MSAs may result in consumers paying higher prices for mortgages, and that the practice of steering business may indirectly undermine consumers’ ability to shop for mortgages.

Running afoul of the CFPB in this area has resulted in injunctive relief including bans on entering MSAs, bans on working in the mortgage industry for up to five years, and penalties totaling more than $75 million.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Prospect Mortgage have announced decisions to discontinue MSAs. The Mortgage Bankers Association, which had asked the CFPB for guidance on this topic, has now warned its members to take the bulletin very seriously because it appears to be a series of warnings rather than the requested guidance.

Because of the possibility of enormous potential liability, I urge South Carolina real estate lawyers to completely avoid MSAs in the current regulatory environment, at least until more guidance is provided either by the CFPB or court action.

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Another Lender Communication to Settlement Agents…

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… And a denial from the CFPB.

newsBank of America answered several frequently asked questions from settlement agents by memo dated June 9.

Significantly, BofA indicated that agents will not be allowed to accept its title or closing orders if they are not registered with Closing Insight™. Because BofA and several other lenders will require Closing Insight™,  South Carolina closing attorneys who have not yet registered should follow this link to do so.

Asked whether BofA will require the use of ALTA model settlement statements, the bank responded that it prefers the ALTA model form if a closing attorney chooses to use a settlement statement to supplement the Closing Disclosure (“CD”), but specified that the settlement statement figures must reconcile to the CD and a copy of the settlement statement must be provided to BofA. The memo also stated that all revised fees and costs will require both bank approval and an amended CD. In other words, fees and costs cannot be revised by simply supplementing the CD with a settlement statement.

ALTA’s settlement statements are available for review and use at this link.

The memo confirmed our thinking that separate CDs will be provided to the buyer and the seller. BofA added that the buyer and seller will not sign the same form nor see the contents of the other party’s CD. Further, BofA will instruct the closing attorney to prepare and deliver the seller’s CD and to provide copies of CDs to the real estate agents.

Finally, the bank clarified its process for making post-disbursement fee modifications. If the closing attorney identifies the need for a change in the numbers reflected on the CD, the attorney must request that the “collaboration session” be reopened in Closing Insight™, and the bank will review the update made by the attorney to determine whether a revised CD is necessary. The party in possession of any excess funds will be responsible for sending the funds to the buyer/borrower, while BofA will prepare and send the revised CD to the buyer/borrower. The closing attorney will be responsible for revising and delivering the seller’s revised CD, if necessary.

cfpb-logoIn related news, on June 3, the CFPB released a fact sheet in response to “much information and mistaken commentary” surrounding perceived closing delays that will be caused by the implementation of the new rules. The CFPB denied that the new CDs will delay closings “for just about everybody.” In response to the belief that any change in the CD will cause a new 3-day review period, the CFPB clearly stated that only the following matters will trigger an additional 3- day wait:

  1. The new APR (annual percentage rate) increases by more than 1/8 of a percent for fixed-rate loans or ¼ of a percent for adjustable loans. A decrease in the APR will not require a new 3-day review if it is based on changes to interest rate or other fees.
  2. A prepayment penalty is added, making it expensive to refinance or sell.
  3. The basic loan product changes, such as a switch from fixed rate to adjustable interest rate or to a loan with interest-only payments.

The following circumstances will not require a new 3-day review, according to the fact sheet:

  1. Unexpected discoveries on a walk-through such as a broken refrigerator or a missing stove, even if they require seller credits to the buyer.
  2. Most changes to payments made at closing, including the amount of the real estate commission, taxes and utilities proration, and the amount paid into escrow.
  3. Typos found at the closing table.

The CFBP’s denial notwithstanding, we are all naturally concerned about other matters that will cause delays during the transition period, particularly the steep learning curve that must be overcome by everyone involved in closings. But we will all work hard to get through the transition period together! We’re predicting that closings will be much smoother by the beginning of 2016.

BB&T Follows the Lead of Other Large Lenders

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It will produce and deliver Closing Disclosures

BB&T logo 2BB&T announced on May 26 that it will be responsible for completing and delivering borrowers’ Closing Disclosures after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) TILA-RESPA Integrated Mortgage Disclosures (TRID) rule becomes effective on August 1.

By making this announcement, BB&T joins Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, SunTrust and Freedom Mortgage in removing the responsibility for preparing the borrower’s settlement statement from the hands of settlement agents (closing attorneys in South Carolina). Closing attorneys will prepare the seller’s CD as well as other forms necessary for disbursement. It is clear that the borrower’s CD will not contain sufficient information for disbursement, which will continue to be the responsibility of the closing attorney.

Like the other lenders, BB&T confirmed in its announcement that it will continue to work with closing attorneys to determine the fees and other information required for the Closing Disclosure.

stay tunedBB&T also announced, like several other large lenders, that it will use the web-based portal, Closing Insight™, to gather the information and data required to complete the CD. Closing attorneys were encouraged to register with Closing Insight™ immediately.

BB&T promised to provide further communications and training to settlement agents prior to August 1.

Three New Lender Announcements in Early May

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They keep rolling in as August 1 approaches!

town crierWe’re 60 business days away from implementation of TRID, and lenders continue to make announcements about how they will approach the closing process in the new environment. I am committed to keeping South Carolina closing attorneys informed about these continuing revelations, so here is a synopsis of the most recent developments.

Freedom Mortgage announced on May 7 that it will prepare and deliver the borrower’s Closing Disclosure and will employ Closing Insight™ as its method of exchanging information with settlement agents (closing attorneys in South Carolina). Other methods of exchanging information (e-mail, fax) will no longer be used, and closing attorneys were encouraged to sign up for this information portal by visiting www.closinginsight.com.

Chase Mortgage Banking recently repeated that it will deliver the borrower’s CD and will provide a copy of that document in the closing package. The closing attorney will prepare and deliver the seller’s CD and will provide Chase with a copy.

Chase stated it will rely on closing attorneys for transaction numbers such as seller credits, broker’s commissions, seller and purchaser attorneys’ fees, real estate agent bills, external mortgage payoffs, adjustments, prorations, taxes, recording fees and title fees. All of this information should be given to Chase ten days prior to closing.

Chase also stated that it will continue to use encrypted secure email (iSentry and/or Voltage) to provide documents to closing attorneys.

Bank of America announced on May 6 that closing attorneys should register with Closing Insight™, but that registration will not insure a place on BofA’s “Written List of Providers” (WLP). Those interested in being including on the WLP should apply at www.bankofamerica.com/suppliers, but applying does not insure that applicants will be added to the list. BofA representatives will engage prospective candidates for consideration as opportunities for expanding the supplier base become available. Those currently on the WLP do not need to reapply.

BofA also announced that it will absorb the cost of Closing Insight™. To our knowledge, no other lender has made a similar announcement.

It is encouraging that lenders continue to think through their processes and to provide us with additional information. The more knowledge we have up front, the fewer surprises we will experience after August 1. I promise to continue to distribute this news as it is announced to the letstalkdirtsc.com audience.

SunTrust Requires ALTA Best Practices Compliance by July 1

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… AND indicates it will produce and deliver Closing Disclosures.

suntan lotionMaking a significant announcement with a tight deadline, SunTrust Mortgage revealed in an April 22 letter to its settlement service providers (closing attorneys in South Carolina) that it will require them to comply with ALTA’s Best Practices and to complete an ALTA Self-Assessment no later than July 1, 2015.*

The letter also announced that SunTrust, following the lead of Well Fargo, Bank of America, CitiBank and Chase, will produce and deliver Closing Disclosures to borrowers and will require closing attorneys to provide complete and accurate title and settlement charges up to two weeks prior to scheduled closing dates.

SunTrust also plans to handle Closing Disclosure revisions and expects closing attorneys to provide timely notice of any changes in the closing numbers, including changes that occur after closing.

Closing attorneys will be responsible for preparing and delivering the seller’s Closing Disclosure on purchase transactions. A signed copy of the seller’s Closing Disclosure will be required by SunTrust as a condition of funding approval.

SunTrust will require an attestation form from closing attorneys for each closing, confirming the ability to comply with the new rules and expectations.

* The letter directed closing attorneys to www.alta.org/bestpractices/index.cfm for more information on ALTA’s Best Practices and offered assistance from SunTrust via e-mail at TitleSettlementMgmt@SunTrust.com and mail at Title/Settlement Management, SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., Mail Code: VA-INSB-7882, 5600 Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060.

Five things lenders need to know before August

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Dirt lawyers: Educate your lender contacts!

Our company has developed resources to equip dirt lawyers to educate lenders about how the CFPB will impact them beginning August 1.  I’m sharing a few tips with the letstalkdirtsc.com audience because everyone will benefit if lenders are prepared.

As we have traveled the Palmetto state talking to lawyers, real estate agents and lenders, we have learned that many of the local folks are not familiar with the new rules, even the significant players in the market. We understand the corporate offices of national lenders may not have pushed this information down to the local level at this point. Any lawyer who will provide valuable information to local contacts now will be perceived as an important partner!

This is a primer, a very basic beginning point. As the software companies complete their updates, everyone involved will be trained on the details of the new rule and forms.  For now, let’s give our lender partners the following information:

1 flapWho will be responsible for preparing the Closing Disclosure? The lender will be ultimately responsible for preparing the CD (the document that replaces the HUD-1 and final TIL Disclosure). Four national lenders, Bank of America, CitiBank, Wells Fargo and Chase, have announced that they will prepare the CD. We anticipate that smaller banks may continue to rely on closing attorneys to prepare this important document. Closing attorneys will be responsible for preparing the seller’s side of the CD in all cases.

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Who will be responsible for delivering the Closing Disclosure? The rule requires that the borrower must receive the CD three days prior to closing. This actually translates to delivery six days prior to closing to accommodate transit time. The rule allows the closing attorney, at the lender’s discretion, to deliver the CD. The four banks who have announced that they will prepare the CD will also deliver it.

Closing Disclosure Delivery Timeline Chart

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How will closing attorneys and lenders communicate information contained in their respective systems? The big banks will most likely use some form of electronic communication. Some have already announced that they will use Real EC’s Closing Insight™ Most closing attorneys will work with settlement software companies (such as SoftPro) to connect with these systems. Regardless, information will have to be exchanged earlier to accommodate the delivery requirements of the CD.  Some experts have predicted that the numbers will have to be exchanged between lawyers and lenders no later than ten days prior to closing.

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Who will make changes to the CD? Changes to the CD may occur prior to closing, necessitating adjustments, re-printing, and delivery of the corrected CD at closing. Lenders and lawyers will have to discuss who will make the pre-closing changes. Changes to the settlement numbers on the CD may also occur after closing, requiring preparation and delivery of a revised CD. For example, if recording fees change, the CD will have to be revised. Previously, lawyers had the responsibility for these post-closing changes. Under the new rule, the lenders have primary responsibility, but they may delegate this responsibility to closing attorneys.

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How will closing attorneys communicate title and settlement fees for use in the new forms? Lenders will continue to need accurate estimates of title and settlement fees for the preparation of the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure. In addition, for transactions in which an owner’s policy will be issued, the rule prescribes special mathematical calculations for the disclosure of the owner’s and lender’s title insurance premiums, which may require receipt of rates for both a stand-alone and simultaneously issued lender’s policy, as well as the owner’s policy rate.

Good luck educating your referral sources!

Lenders’ Closing Plans Solidify As August 1 Approaches

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news news newsCitibank recently notified settlement agents (closing attorneys in South Carolina) that they will be requested to register with the FPSDirect Vendor Website at the time they agree to handle a Citibank closing. This website was created to provide the bank’s settlement agents with an easy and efficient method of loan document delivery, closing date confirmation and funding approval, among other matters. The memo stated the bank’s goal is to save the time of faxing and the insecurity of email.

Wells Fargo issued a Settlement Agent Communication on March 16 indicating that, like Bank of America, it plans to integrate with Closing Insight™ with a goal of improving the way instructions, fees and other information is shared. The memo stated: “Unlike today where we typically use email to pass these important details back and forth, Closing Insight™ will support an interactive, online collaboration that includes a full view of information from both parties, and provides an audit trail and quality checks to reduce errors.”

We have learned and the Wells Fargo communication states that many closing attorneys will be able to access Closing Insight™ through connections with their existing software packages. Wells’ communication also states that attorneys without closing software packages will not be left out because a secure web portal will be available. Wells reiterated its goal of continuing to do business with local service providers, but emphasized that it expects closing attorneys to be ready, willing and able to comply with requirements and closing instructions.

Wells Fargo also answered four recent FAQs:

“If co-borrowers plan to sign the loan documents on different dates, which date applies for compliance with the three business day receipt requirement of the CD? The borrower’s CD must have been received not less than three business days before the earliest signing date. This question highlights the importance of communicating specifics about signing plans to your Wells Fargo closing contact, including cases when a mobile signing agent or mail away signing is being requested.

Will Wells Fargo be providing loan closing documents to the settlement agent at the same time the borrower’s CD is delivered? Our goal is to provide the closing documents to the settlement agent shortly after the borrower’s CD has been finalized and provided to the borrower. In most cases, you should receive the closing documents earlier than in the past.

Will Wells Fargo permit any other party to deliver the borrower’s CD to meet the three business day closing requirement for a rush closing situation? No. We have determined that we must be responsible for delivering the borrower’s CD to meet and track the three business day receipt requirement for all transactions We will continue to encourage all parties involved to stay in close communication and work together proactively to minimize the need for expedited CD delivery.

Is my company required to be ALTA Best Practices Certified by August 1 to continue to close Wells Fargo loans?  No. Completing your certification by August 1 will not be a Wells Fargo requirement. However, we hope that if your company is not yet certified you will – at minimum – have already completed a self-assessment and addressed any identified gaps. As communicated in our March 6, 2014, newsletter, Wells Fargo supports the ALTA Best Practices as sound business practices that should ideally already be in place for businesses providing title and closing services to our customers.”

Wells Fargo also stated that it has entered into a business arrangement with ClosingCorp, a leading provider of fee management solutions, to obtain actual fee information from selected settlement agents who closing a high number of Wells Fargo loans.