Shopping for a new home now? Or planning to go house hunting this spring? You'll want to pay attention to some new mortgage disclosures that rolled onto the scene beginning in October.
The goal is to protect consumers from taking on too big of a mortgage, rushing into a loan before they understand the real cost or signing documents without realizing they're agreeing to some cumbersome conditions.
"It's designed to bring the prospective homebuyer into a better position to understand the whole transaction," said Andy Slettebak, director of lending for the nonprofit NeighborWorks America.
Janneke Ratcliffe, assistant director of the Office for Financial Education at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the new disclosures are an improvement compared with previous disclosures. They were created to be easier to read and give consumers more information up front about the homebuying process. Some key features, she said, are:
n A lender now must provide you a loan estimate form within three days of receiving your application.
The three-page loan estimate discloses the estimated costs of taxes and insurance, and how the interest rate and payments may change in the future. You could spot potential risks associated with the loan, such as if this particular product possibly includes a penalty for paying the loan off early. Or maybe there's a balloon payment -- a larger than usual one-time payment at the end of the loan.
One key bit of detail: This form allows you to better compare loans by seeing how quickly you'd reduce the loan principal in five years. You'd see the total mortgage-related costs over five years.
n Consumers must receive their closing documents at least three days before closing so they have a real chance to review the paperwork.
Here's where some extra consumer protection could shake up the process a bit. The new three-day window gives you a chance to compare your final terms to what you received earlier in that loan estimate. You'd receive a five-page closing disclosure.
You'd know exactly what cash you need to bring to the closing table. You'd also want to check such things as your interest rate, loan amount and monthly payment. You can see what you'd be charged for a late payment
Douglas Robinson, a spokesman for the nonprofit NeighborWorks America, said some consumers had complained during the foreclosure crisis that the closing documents that were brought to the table were different from what was presented earlier. Now, consumers would have more time to review the terms and get more information if they want.
The process, though, is new and only went into place Oct. 3. So some lenders have expressed concern that the timing for providing the closing disclosures might create an inconvenience for some consumers who are particularly eager to close on their mortgage.
Some closings could take longer while title companies gain more experience, according to Bankrate.com. So borrowers could want a longer rate lock of 45 days or 60 days, instead of a 30-day lock, given some uncertainties.
Susan Tompor, the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press, can be reached at stompor @freepress.com.