Making Prepayment Penalties Illegal
I got a search for "which states allow prepayment penalties". I'm not aware of any that don't. If you are, I'd like to know. Any such states should immediately be renamed "Denial".
I really hate prepayment penalties, for a large number of reasons. Nonetheless, to make them illegal would not be in the best interests of consumers.
Let's examine why. Let's consider a hypothetical couple, the Smiths, who don't have much of a down payment, and have difficulty qualifying for the loan. They want to become owners rather than renters, and it is in their best interests to do so.
The cold hard fact of the matter is that nobody does loans for free. Real Estate loans are complex creatures, and they don't just magically appear out of some hyperspatial vortex upon demand. I may cut my usual margin by half if I'm the buyer's agent as well, but that's because I've found I'm going to do a large portion of the work anyway, have to ride herd on the loan officer, and stress out because it's a major part of the transaction that can really hurt my clients that is not only not under my control, but I cannot monitor with any degree of confidence I'm being told the truth. I keep telling folks that the MLDS or GFE don't mean anything. They are not contracts, they are not loan commitments, they are not the Note or Deed of Trust, and they definitely aren't a funded loan. They are supposed to be a best guess estimate of your loan conditions, but with all the limitations and wiggle room built into them, the regulators might as well not have bothered. By themselves, they are worthless. None of the paper you get before you sign final loan documents means anything unless the loan officer wants it to. Unless the loan officer guarantees it in writing that says that someone other than you will eat any difference in costs, what you have is a used piece of paper with some unimportant markings on it. If I, as a better more experienced loan officer than the vast majority of loan officers out there, cannot monitor what another loan officer is doing with any degree of confidence, do you want to bet that you can?
So we have some folks who can just barely stretch to do the loan. In order to buy them a little space on their payments, so that any bill that comes in isn't an absolute disaster they cannot afford, and also so I can get paid without it coming out of the money these people don't have, I talk to them about the situation and we all agree to put a two year pre-payment penalty on the loan. This buys them a lower rate with lower payments, without adding anything to their loan balance. They don't owe any more money, they get a lower rate, I get paid, and they didn't have to come up with money they don't have. Everybody wins, whereas without the prepayment penalty they would be paying $200 per month more, and perhaps they couldn't qualify. No loan, no property, no start to the benefits of ownership. They certainly wouldn't have that $200 per month cushion that's likely to save their bacon from their first emergency. Leaving aside for a moment the issue that most folks want to buy more house than they can afford, that really stinks from the point of view of the people that those who would outlaw prepayment penalties altogether say they are trying to help, those who are trying to buy a home and just barely qualify.
Many folks have a long mortgage history, and they are comfortable in the knowledge that they will not refinance or sell within X number of years. They're willing to accept a pre-payment penalty in order to get the lower rate. They want that $200 per month in their pocket, not the bank's, and they are willing to accept the risk that they may need to sell or refinance in return. After all, if they don't sell or refinance within the term of the penalty, it cost them nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. For all intents and purposes, free money. I may advise against it, but it is their decision to make or not make that bet, not mine, not the bank's, not the legislature's, and definitely not some clueless bureaucrat's, let alone that of some activist who only understands that lenders make money from them, and not the benefits that real consumers can receive if they go into it with their eyes open.
Pre-payment penalties get abused. Badly abused. I know of places that think nothing of putting a three year pre-payment penalty on a loan with a two year fixed period. There is no way on this earth anyone can tell those folks truthfully what their payments will be like in the third year. I may be able to tell them what the lowest possible payment could be, but not the highest. I've seen five year prepayment penalties on two and three year fixed rate loans, and that situation is even worse. I've heard of ten year prepayment penalties on a three year fixed rate loan. I've seen even A paper lenders slide in long prepayment penalties on unsuspecting borrowers that mean they get an extra six or eight points of profit when they sell the loan. So there are some real issues there.
With this in mind, there are some reforms I could really get behind. The first is making it illegal for a prepayment penalty to exceed the length of time that the actual interest rate is fixed. Regardless of what the contract says, once the real interest rate starts to adjust, no prepayment penalty can be charged (This means no prepayment penalties on Option ARMS, among other things). The second is putting a prepayment penalty disclosure clause in large prominent type on every one of the standard forms, and making it mandatory that the loan provider indemnify the borrower if the final loan delivered does not conform to the initial pre-payment disclosure. In other words, if I tell you there's no pre-payment penalty and there is one, I have to pay it for you. If I tell you there's a two year penalty, and it's a three year penalty, I have to pay it if you sell or refinance in the third year (in the first two years, it's your own lookout because you agreed to that from the beginning).
But to completely abolish the pre-payment payment penalty is not in the best interest of the consumers of any state. Show me a state that has abolished them completely, and I'll show you a state that has hurt its residents to no good purpose. Sometimes there is a good solution to a problem, as I believe I have demonstrated here. It's just not the first one that springs to mind.
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