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What Is a Mortgage Servicer, and How Do You Avoid a Shady One?

Q: Here at Ask Real Estate, we recently received a reader’s question about poor treatment by mortgage servicers. Many first-time home buyers don’t realize that the lender that approves their mortgage could turn around and sell the servicing rights to a company they’ve never heard of. Now the homeowner might have to deal with a mortgage servicer that has bad customer service, charges late fees when it shouldn’t, or makes needless demands on borrowers. How can you protect yourself from having to do business with a bad mortgage servicer?

A: A mortgage lender is a company that loans you money, but it isn’t necessarily the one that manages your loan. That’s a mortgage servicer, and unfortunately, you cannot choose your servicer. They’re responsible for sending statements, accepting payments and managing escrow accounts. They also charges various fees, many of which they keep, and can initiate foreclosure. Loan servicing can always be sold.

“There is no incentive for good customer service,” said Sarah B. Mancini, co-director of advocacy at the National Consumer Law Center.



But mortgage servicers are required to abide by the law, and you don’t have to tolerate unfair business practices.

Kristi C. Kelly, a lawyer who works on mortgage cases with Kelly Guzzo, PLC, in the Washington, D.C., area, said many borrowers never have an issue with their mortgage servicer. But when they do, the problems often involve servicers not applying payments promptly, or making homeowners who are eligible for property tax exemptions needlessly make estimated tax payments to their escrow accounts.

Document any problem you’re having with the servicer, and write a letter to the address printed on your statement for “qualified written requests” or “notices of error.” If a payment you made was not applied properly, you can call and ask when the company received the payment. If the servicer acknowledges that the payment was made on time, you can request a recording of the phone call, which will give you leverage.

“If it’s not corrected, then you potentially have a claim,” Ms. Kelly said. You could sue to correct the error and for damages and attorney’s fees.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency, can also help. It takes complaints online or by calling (855) 411-2372, and works to get a resolution for the borrower. It also monitors complaints to detect widespread abuse by repeat offenders. In New York state, the Office of the Attorney General also takes complaints about mortgage servicers to sniff out patterns of abuse, and offers free legal help through the Homeowner Protection Program.

If you choose to refinance when interest rates are more favorable, you can seek out a lender that is less likely to sell servicing rights, such as a credit union.

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