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Getting a mortgage can be a trying experience, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the process. At Quicken Loans, we’re in the business of simplifying home financing. But, regardless of how convenient we’ve made the mortgage process, it can still be challenging to understand some of the information in the standard documents.

When you’re in the market for a mortgage, you may be so focused on getting the lowest interest rate that you forget there’s more that requires your attention. You also need to consider the differences in the terms and closing costs associated with each lender. In the past, the Good Faith Estimate form was used to inform borrowers of the nuances. However, the federal government found that most borrowers weren’t shopping around before choosing a mortgage because they didn’t know how to compare lenders’ services.

To clarify the information, the Know Before You Owe rule was introduced, ensuring that all consumers have the information they need to differentiate between the offerings of various lenders. As part of the initiative, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau retired the Good Faith Estimate and replaced it with the Loan Estimate form. Although the federal mandate has made mortgage details more apparent, you should still understand the basic concepts behind these forms so you’re more prepared to read them.

What Is A Good Faith Estimate?

Up until October 2015, the Good Faith Estimate was the standard form The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act required lenders to use to inform borrowers of mortgage terms. This form has since been replaced but is still used (in conjunction with the Truth-in-Lending Disclosure and HUD-1 Settlement Statement) for reverse mortgages.

Beyond detailing the mortgage terms, a GFE provides an estimate of the fees to be paid at the closing of the loan. GFEs itemize the payments you have to make so that you know what to expect. This also makes it easier to understand the lender and third-party mortgage fees.

Because GFEs are standardized, the government assumed consumers could use the form to compare the costs of various lenders and determine which lender to use when financing. However, it was discovered that these comparisons were not as easy for borrowers as expected.

Why Was The Good Faith Estimate Replaced?

Although the GFE was intended to clarify the interest rates and closing costs associated with consumers’ loans, many found the information to be far more confusing than illuminating.

Borrowers have always been encouraged to shop around for mortgages, but the GFE and its precursors allowed lenders to choose the language they used to describe terms and fees. The inconsistent language used by lenders left borrowers scratching their heads. Without familiarity with the mortgage process, they couldn’t distinguish the real differences between loans.

In the interest of protecting consumers, the CFPB eliminated GFEs and replaced them with Loan Estimates. This change simplified the information and made it more user-friendly by consolidating four forms into two: the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure.

What Is A Loan Estimate?

A Loan Estimate is a document that borrowers now receive from lenders after submitting a mortgage application. Lenders are required to provide you with this 3-page form within 3 business days of receiving your application.

The Loan Estimate does not offer you a stamp of approval or rejection when it comes to obtaining a loan. Instead, it presents you with the estimated loan terms, projected payments, and closing costs for your potential mortgage. Loan Estimates also provide you with insight into whether rates and payments can change and by how much.

Loan Estimates are more transparent than GFEs because they require lenders to use a universal format when presenting information about the terms and costs involved. This may sound like the GFE, but the real improvement comes with the fact that Loan Estimates also standardize the inclusions and wording of rates and costs by offering a table that is used universally.

The Loan Estimate form even includes a section that specifies which closing costs are fixed so you know which services you can shop around for. To help you select these services, lenders will provide a list of preferred service providers. With the differences between lenders more apparent, you’ll be more aware of the options and can make better-educated decisions when choosing the best lender and service providers for your circumstances.

Fee Tolerances

Not only do Loan Estimates protect you against surprise fees, they also guard against last-minute changes. Since the costs listed in the form are merely estimates, there can be some adjustments to fee amounts. However, the law holds lenders accountable for providing estimates in good faith. To ensure that estimates are made in good faith, the fees disclosed on Loan Estimates are compared to the actual amount you pay at consummation (the point when you become legally obligated to a specific lender).

To ensure that you aren’t paying more than you should, the disclosure law sets tolerance levels for different fees. If the disparity between the amount estimated and the amount paid is too high, the lender must make up the difference.

Page 2 of the Loan Estimate details the closing costs. These costs are broken down into a couple different categories: Loan Costs (origination charges, services you cannot shop for and services you can shop for) and Other Costs (taxes and government recording fees, pre-paid fees, initial escrow payment and other fees that the lender is aware of).

Each of these fees is subject to a different tolerance level. Fees that have zero tolerance cannot increase. If they increase by any amount, the lender is liable for the difference. The costs included in the zero tolerance category are any fees that the lender has oversight of. Fees with zero tolerance include origination charges, services that you cannot shop for and transfer taxes.

Fees in the 10% cumulative tolerance category are viewed as a whole. While these fees may increase by more than 10% individually, the sum total of these fees may not increase by more than 10%. Costs included in this tolerance category are recording fees and any third-party service fees that you can shop for (assuming you chose a provider from your lender’s preferred list).

The final category is for fees that have no tolerance. No tolerance fees are ones that you must pay in full regardless of how much they increase. These fees can change without restriction because they are costs that the lender has no control over. They fall under the Other Costs section of the Loan Estimate and include pre-paid fees (insurance premiums, pre-paid interest and property taxes) and the initial escrow payment. Other fees that are included in this category are the costs of any services that you shopped for if you did not choose a provider from the lender’s list.

What Is A Closing Disclosure?

A Closing Disclosure is a 5-page form that lenders are required to give borrowers before the loan closing. The form describes the final terms and costs associated with your mortgage, as well as the amount of money you’ll need on hand at closing. The information on this form is presented in the same format, using the same language as the Loan Estimate. By simply reviewing the two forms next to each other, you’ll be readily able to compare the final details of your loan to the estimates that your lender provided.

Just as the Loan Estimate replaced the Good Faith Estimate, the Closing Disclosure replaced the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. Not only did the CFPB simplify the form, they also extended the timeframe you have to review it. While the HUD-1 Settlement Statement was given to borrowers on the day of closing, the Closing Disclosure must be provided to you at least 3 business days before you close on your loan. This 3-day window allows time to review and ask questions and ensures that there is no confusion on closing day.

How Does This Change Impact Your Mortgage?

By changing these forms, the CFPB has made the mortgage process easier and more accessible. As always, the more information you have, the more empowered you’ll be when choosing a lender and mortgage product appropriate for your situation.

Make sure to read your Loan Estimates carefully and ask your potential lenders any questions you have before you choose which loan and lender to proceed with. You also may find it helpful to review definitions of the terms present in these forms.

Feeling anxious to get started? If you would like to obtain a Loan Estimate from us, visit Rocket Mortgage® by Quicken Loans®. Just create an account from your computer or smartphone, and we’ll help you through the process.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. Hi Cindy:

      If your spouse were to pass, you have the right to continue living there and making the mortgage payment regardless of whether you’re on the loan. If you did want to refinance down the line, you would need to requalify for the loan based on your income and assets individually. But you don’t need to do this to keep making the payments. I hope this helps!

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