Kenneth Harney

Lenders won't have to run a second full credit check before closing on mortgage

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By Kenneth R. Harney
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Despite earlier reports to the contrary, it turns out that your mortgage lender will not have to pull a second full credit report on you hours before closing on your home purchase or refinancing.

In a clarification of a policy announced earlier this year, mortgage giant Fannie Mae now says that applicants will need to come clean about any debts they have incurred since they submitted their mortgage application -- or debts they never disclosed on the application. But a formal pre-closing credit report will not be mandatory to confirm creditworthiness.

Instead, loan officers can use other techniques to verify that you haven't financed a new car, taken out a personal loan or even applied for new credit in any amount that might make it more difficult for you to afford your monthly mortgage payments.

Among the techniques Fannie expects lenders to use on all applicants: commercial or in-house fraud-detection systems are capable of tracking applicants' credit files from the day their loan request is approved to closing.

Although Fannie made no reference to specific services in its recent clarification letter to lenders, some commercially available programs claim to be able to monitor mortgage borrowers' credit activities on a 24/7 basis, flagging such things as inquiries, new credit accounts and previous accounts that did not show up on the credit report that was pulled at the time of initial application.

One of those services is marketed by national credit bureau Equifax and dubbed "Undisclosed Debt Monitoring." Aimed at what Equifax calls "the quiet period" between application and closing -- often one month to three months -- the system is "always on," the company says in marketing pitches to mortgage lenders.

Home loan applicants failed to mention -- or loan officers failed to detect -- "up to $142 million in auto loan payments" during mortgage underwriting in first mortgage files reviewed by Equifax last year alone, according to the credit bureau. Those loan accounts had average balances of $361 per month -- more than enough to disqualify many borrowers on maximum debt-to-income ratio standards required by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and major lenders.

Why the sudden concern about new debts incurred after mortgage applications? It's mainly because Fannie and others have picked up on a key type of consumer behavior that has helped trigger big losses for the mortgage industry in recent years: Some buyers and refinancers hold off on creating new credit accounts until they have cleared strict underwriting tests on the debt-to-income ratios and have been approved for a loan. Then they splurge.

Additional debt loads can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, executives in the credit industry say. Had those new accounts been in their credit files during the application process, borrowers might have been turned down for the mortgage, required to make a larger down payment or charged a higher interest rate.

Fannie's new policy puts the burden of detecting these debts squarely on lenders or loan officers. Whether they pull additional credit reports -- still an option allowed under the revised policy -- or use some form of monitoring service, lenders must guarantee that the debt loads stated in any mortgage package submitted for purchase by Fannie Mae are scrupulously accurate as of the moment of closing. If not, the lender probably will be forced to endure the most painful form of punishment in the financial industry: a forced "buyback" of the entire mortgage from Fannie Mae.

Billions of dollars in buybacks have been demanded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this year alone -- a fact that is likely to make lenders even more eager to conduct some type of refresher credit check or continuous monitoring of all new loan applicants.

What does this mean if you're planning to finance a home purchase or refinance your existing mortgage into a new loan with a lower interest rate? Tops on the list: Be aware that sophisticated credit surveillance systems are now being used in the mortgage industry.

Next, try not to inquire about, shop for or take on new credit obligations during the period between your application and the scheduled closing. If you seriously want that new loan, keep your credit picture simple -- no significant changes, no additions -- until you settle on the mortgage.

During the heady days of the housing boom, nobody was looking for debt add-ons before closings. Now they are scanning for them all the time.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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