The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) is an act passed by Congress in 1974. It was designed to protect potential homeowners and enable them to become more informed consumers. This act requires lenders to provide more information to borrowers at certain points in the loan process and prohibits referral fees and kickbacks between lenders and third-party settlement service agents in the settlement process. Some disclosures list out the costs of the settlement, outline lender servicing and escrow account practices and describe business relationships between settlement service providers. It also prohibits home sellers from requiring home buyers to purchase title insurance from a particular company. RESPA covers loans secured with a mortgage placed on a one-to-four family residential property. These include most purchase loans, refinances, assumptions, property improvement loans and equity lines of credit. It requires lenders to provide a good faith estimate (GFE) listing all of the approximate loan costs as well as a HUD at the closing of the real estate loan. Origination charges are not allowed to increase, while certain third party service provider fees can increase by no more than 10%.
When borrowers apply for a mortgage loan, mortgage brokers and/or lenders must give the borrowers:
- a Special Information Booklet, which contains consumer information regarding various real estate settlement services. (Required for purchase transactions only).
- a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) of settlement costs, which lists the charges the buyer is likely to pay at settlement. This is only an estimate and the actual charges may differ. If a lender requires the borrower to use of a particular settlement provider, then the lender must disclose this requirement on the GFE.
- a Mortgage Servicing Disclosure Statement, which discloses to the borrower whether the lender intends to service the loan or transfer it to another lender. It also provides information about complaint resolution.
- If the borrowers don’t get these documents at the time of application, the lender must mail them within three business days of receiving the loan application. If the lender turns down the loan within three days, however, then RESPA does not require the lender to provide these documents. The RESPA statute does not provide an explicit penalty for the failure to provide the Special Information Booklet, Good Faith Estimate or Mortgage Servicing Statement. Bank regulators, however, may impose penalties on lenders who fail to comply with federal law.