Games Lenders Play, Part I: Misleading Advertising to Get You to Call

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I get the same junkmail and spam most of you folks do. They don't know who I am when they send it out. It's just that I know what's going on behind the scenes with this stuff.

So I thought I'd get out my calculator and deconstruct what's going on with the advertisements I've gotten in the mail.

The first one starts with "30 year fixed rate 5.125% (APR 5.42)" Well, computing that out, it converts to $10,100 of nonexcludable fees on a $300,000 loan (UPDATE: actually, I discovered later in light fine print that the APR is based on a loan amount of $359,650, the so called "maximum conforming" loan at the time, which means the imputed number of points are slightly higher). This works out to 2.71 points, assuming they get it done for the same $1700 or so of excludable fees everyone else has (Title, Escrow and appraisal charges are excluded from APR computation). I had that rate at 2.25 discount points at the time, so they're making about half a point extra if there's no prepayment penalty. So if there's no prepayment penalty that's not a bad loan, except that I called and found out there's a five year prepayment penalty on it. That's a good healthy (or unhealthy, depending upon your point of view) cha-ching of about two and a half or three points to the loan provider. Not to mention that the postcard was "old and the rates are higher now" according to the voice on the phone I talked to at the time, "so you should start the loan now before the rates go higher." The lowest rate they could do as we were talking? 5.375, which I could do for 0.75 discount points as I was talking to them - giving them as a loan provider almost two points in their pocket without the 2.5 to 3 points for a five year pre-payment penalty.

Then, after a faint dotted line designed to be overlooked, they tell you all about payments. $250,000 is $632.14 per month, $300,000 is $758.57 per month, etcetera. Going over to the calculator (even though I can tell you what's going on without it), I get a negative interest rate when I punch in thirty year amortization. I shouldn't need to explain to adults that something is wrong with that picture. Well, what's likely going on is that this is a forty year amortization, and indeed, when I punch in a forty year amortization I get an interest rate of 1%. So on top of being on a forty year amortization, the payments they are quoting are on a negative amortization loan. It is neither on the same rate nor term as the previously talked about loan. And that's the purpose of that thin dotted line that's designed to be missed. They want you to think payment B is connected to loan A, when in fact they are talking about a completely different loan. And indeed I can find that in small, very light print on the other side of the card, under some darker print about about $1000 "Best price guarantee." Voice on the phone explained that, "If you close and subsequently prove you qualify for a better rate with someone else, we'll pay you $1000." Well, first off, if they pay you $1000 to make three points on the loan, they are still $8000 plus to the good, and if I were the sort to be giving that sort of guarantee I'd have no problem wriggling out of it on any of several fronts such as "rates are lower now - why don't you refinance with us (so we can hose you again)". And if you refinance or sell within five years, you're out over $7600 in prepayment penalty. Since 95% of all clients sell or refinance within five years, if you've got to have the 5.125% rate, statistically you're better off paying somebody honest one point of origination as well as the lender discount points for no prepayment penalty. One point of origination works out to a little over $3000 on a $300,000 loan. This is less than the difference between the loan they advertised and the loan they theoretically had when I called the day after I got the card.

But the rate is voodoo magic to most people. Theoretically, you've got to be able to understand some mathematics to graduate high school, or at least be able to figure out how to get numbers out of a calculator. Nonetheless, what most people "buy" loans on is payment. This is well known factual information to everyone in the real estate industry. Very few people ever call saying, "Give me that rate." What most customers want is the payment. And when the advertising apparently links the cheap payment on a negative amortization loan to the "Thirty year fixed rate of 5.125%", most companies are doing what I call "lying by association". Most clients want to believe that the one goes with the other and that the listed item is a pretty good bargain, when in fact I have shown that not only do they have nothing to do within each other, but also that they are both the sort of loan I would wish my worst enemy in the loan business would get for some enemy of civilization like Chairman Mao. Then when Chairman Mao gets a lawyer (and enemies of civilization never have a problem getting competent lawyers), I get to watch the whole thing blow up on both of them from safe on the sidelines.

Oh, and this postcard also talks about "skip one or maybe 2 payments." As I cover in Prepaid Interest and Why You Never Really Skip a Mortgage Payment, you never really skip any payments, EVER. You can either pay them out of pocket or roll them into the costs of the loan. Anybody who represents otherwise is lying, with malice aforethought, unless they're going to whip out a checkbook and pay it out of their pocket. How likely do you think that is?

To avoid this trap: First, don't "buy" loans based upon payment. Second, get (or find) a calculator and use it, or even learn to do the calculations yourself. Third, ask the prospective loan provider the hard questions, and make sure that the question they answer is the one that you asked. Fourth, Shop Shop Shop around for a loan. And apply for a backup loan. Finally, always realize that with the kind of money loan providers make from loans, they will promise anything to get you to call, do anything to get you to apply for a loan, and even though they never have any intention of actually delivering what's on the Good Faith Estimate (or MLDS in California) there is little chance of you being able to get any kind of legal satisfaction from them.

Caveat Emptor

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2 Comments

Katharina said:

Dan, I really like your blog, it has a lot of very useful information!
You recommend several times to apply to 2 lenders to have a back up for purchase loans- I was exactly intending to do that (as we fell out of escrow before because of ridiculously low appraisal)- My question to you though, do you let both" of your lenders know about that? Do you just go in parallel, e.g. also with 2 appraisals? Cause in my experience it is the appraisal that can take 2 weeks..

Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

Katharina,

Unfortunately, due to changes in the lending environment, the day of the back up loan is over, at least for now. Loans can no longer be locked at application - reality in the form of surcharges for loans locked but not funded hits too hard. Nor can I pay people who help on your loan when I don't end up making any money - which happens when people don't end up getting my loan. In order to offer a backup loan, I had to be *certain* I could beat the competition in the end - and with inability to actually lock the loan, I can no longer be certain. Furthermore, the new HVCC standards mean that you would have to pay for two separate appraisals up front - and the cost of appraisals has risen due to those standards.

The new rules are extremely unfriendly to consumers. But they are also economic reality.

Please be civil. Avoid profanity - I will delete the vast majority of it, usually by deleting the entire comment. To avoid comment spam, a comments account is required. They are freely available, and you can post comments immediately. Alternatively, you may use your Type Key registration, or sign up for one (They work at most Movable Type sites) All comments made are licensed to the site, but the fact that a comment has been allowed to remain should not be taken as an endorsement from me or the site. There is no point in attempting to foster discussion if only my own viewpoint is to be permitted. If you believe you see something damaging to you or some third party, I will most likely delete it upon request.
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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on September 3, 2020 7:00 AM.

Contingent Sales was the previous entry in this blog.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Lender Fear is the next entry in this blog.

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