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THE NATION'S HOUSING COLUMN

Feds unveil hotline for mortgage help

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WASHINGTON — If you've had problems with the mortgage lender, bank or loan officer, here's a heads-up about the newest and least publicized source of federal help: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's home mortgage complaint and dispute resolution hotline. Never heard of it? That's not surprising since it only went live Dec. 1 and the CFPB hasn't said much about it, preferring to ease into the potential snake pit of mortgage issues that American consumers have with their lenders rather than get overwhelmed.

Complaints to the CFPB can be submitted online at www.consumerfinance.gov or by calling toll-free 1-855-411-2372, as well as by regular mail and fax.

The bureau was created by last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and is supposed to look out for your interests in banking, financial products, home loans and all other forms of consumer credit. Its mortgage complaint service is an extension of the agency's existing hotline for credit card-related disputes and inquiries, which began July 21.

The credit card complaint service is likely to provide a template for the agency's approach to mortgage problems, which are expected to be more voluminous. When a borrower submits a formal complaint to the bureau, complete with account numbers and other key identifiers, the information will be sent immediately to the lender or mortgage servicer named in the complaint using a secure Web portal.

The lender must then review the information, contact the customer if needed, and determine what action to take to resolve the matter. Next, the lender is supposed to report its action — if any — to the bureau, which sends it on to the borrower for review. Throughout the process, according to the CFPB, borrowers "can log onto the (agency's) secure 'consumer portal' or call the toll-free number to receive updates, provide additional information, and review responses."

If the dispute focuses on what is primarily a matter of state regulation or is beyond the purview of the CFPB, the dispute may be referred to other agencies. Similarly, if the dispute points to fraud or identity theft, the bureau is likely to refer it to either a federal or a state law enforcement authority.

Though consumer groups are optimistic, and the CFPB says it is staffed and ready to go, some mortgage industry leaders worry that the agency could be taking on more than it can realistically handle, and raising borrower expectations that can't be met.

Since the agency is expected to report on the initial months' results sometime early in 2012, consumers should have answers fairly soon. Meanwhile, if you've got a legitimate complaint, give the hotline a shot.

Kenneth R. Harney can be reached at kenharney@earthlink.net.

THE NATION'S HOUSING COLUMN 12/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 3:30am]
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