How To Read The New Good Faith Estimate Forms

Since January 1, 2010 HUD has required lenders to use a new Good Faith Estimate form or GFE. This is important because whether you buy a mansion or a cottage, you want to know how much your mortgage is going to cost — not just the interest rate but all the fees and charges you’ll have to pay to close the loan.

Until this point HUD has generally allowed lenders to offer their own Good Faith Estimate of Closing Costs, however the new standard form for all lenders — a form that took 14 years to develop — will finally assure that borrowers actually understand what’s being charged for their loans, why and by whom.

“The mortgage crisis,” says former HUD Secretary Steve Preston, the last HUD secretary appointed by President Bush, “was fueled in part by people agreeing to mortgages that they ultimately could not afford. In some cases, people didn’t understand or know that their mortgages could result in large payment increases after just two or three years. Others did not recognize the total costs that come with homeownership. And others paid higher loan origination and closing costs simply because they did not know about other affordable options.”

So what makes this form better?

First, it’s a three-page document that every lender will have to use — meaning that offers from lenders will be the same and can readily be compared.

Second, the document is not just a list of fees and charges, it also explains in basic terms the purpose of each expense.

Third, mortgage brokers will have to show their yield-spread premiums (YSPs), costs which Preston says were “rarely understood by, or fully disclosed to, borrowers. These premiums are directly tied to the higher interest rates that borrowers pay. Consumers deserve to understand this and they need to get credit for essentially paying these premiums.”

2010 Good Faith Estimate of Mortgage Closing Costs

Page One

The first page is actually a summary of loan costs — the specifics are found on page two.

Item 1 tells you how long the quoted rate and terms last. Items 3 and 4 concern loan lock-ins — how long the rates and terms will last if you lock them in at the time the GFE is issued.

The loan summary tells you the amount of the loan, the initial loan rate and monthly payment. IMPORTANT: If you have an ARM the next few items will tell you:

  • How high the interest rate can go.
  • When the interest rate can first rise.
  • The maximum monthly payment you can expect.
  • If a prepayment penalty is allowed and, if yes, how much it will cost.
  • Whether there is a balloon payment at the end of the loan terms.

Next the form will tell you whether the lender will create an escrow or “trust” account to collect money each month for property taxes and insurance. Generally, if you buy with less than 20 percent down an escrow account is required by the lender.

Finally, the form adds your origination charges (the “A” items on page two) with other settlement costs (the “B” items on page two). Be aware that you can have additional costs at closing, depending on how the sale agreement is written.

Page Two

The second page is divided into two parts, A and B. Part A looks at “origination” fees, the cost to buy your mortgage.

First, the form shows your origination fee in a dollar amount, including any yield spread premium (YSP). Under the old rules, the yield spread premium could be shown as either a dollar amount or as a percentage of the loan. Now, the entire cost of the loan, including any YSP, is shown as a single dollar amount.

Next, the form shows if your interest rate is being impacted by the origination fee. In other words, let’s say you can borrow $100,000 at 6 percent interest over 30 years with no points. This is called the par pricing for this loan. But, let’s say that you could also borrow $100,000 at 5.75 percent — if you were willing to pay 1 point at closing. A point is equal to 1 percent of the loan amount or $1,000 in this case. The form shows if you are paying for any reduction of the interest rate OR any increase in the rate by paying a smaller origination fee.

Next we go to part B. This part of the form shows the cash costs you can expect to pay at settlement (or escrow) when the loan closes. As the bottom of part B is a total which shows “Your Charges for All Other Settlement Services.”

The totals for parts A and B are then shown at the bottom of the page and on the bottom of page one as well.

HUD encountered considerable opposition from the lending industry, especially with regard to the question of how yield spread premiums should be disclosed. In an important decision which reviewed 14 years of effort to update the good faith form, a court found in 2009 that HUD had acted fairly and in the public interest with the form it produced.

Page Three

The last page should really be the first page because it contains instructions for understanding the form.

The first section lists charges that the lender cannot increase, charges that can rise by as much as 10 percent, and charges that change prior to settlement. This is important information, it means that you should check the numbers on your good faith estimate with the final figures presented to you at closing.

Next, HUD gets into the issue of higher or lower settlement fees. In the same way that mortgage loans have par pricing, so does the settlement process. In other words, if you are willing to pay a somewhat higher interest rate you may be able to lower your cash costs at closing. Indeed, you may not have to bring any cash to closing.

In the third section HUD offers borrowers the opportunity to compare loan offers from different lenders. This is important because borrowers should look at different loan offers to find the rates and terms which best meet your needs.

Lastly, HUD notes that your loan may be sold in the future. If so, after settlement “any fees lenders receive in the future cannot change the loan you receive or the charges you paid at settlement.” Translation: A contract is a contract.

HUD estimates that the new form will save typical borrowers $700 each time they finance or refinance a home. That’s a lot of money, but more could be done to cut borrower costs — and it shouldn’t take 14 years to make additional changes.


Copyright 2009 Peter G. Miller. All Rights Reserved. Use of this material without permission is illegal, however direct links to this page are welcome.

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Posted in: Mortgages

1 Comment on "How To Read The New Good Faith Estimate Forms"

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  1. JMarsh says:

    You forgot to mention what the new GFE is MISSING!! Specifically, the sales price, the down payment amount, the total monthly mortgage payment, and the actual total cash needed at closing! These are 4 MAJOR items that HUD dropped the ball on. Now the customer sees a “Total Estimated Settlement Charges”, and assumes this is the amount they need at closing, but the down payment, seller paid costs (if any) and earnest money are not reflected in that number. This causes MORE confusion than clarification. HUD needs to revise this form sooner rather than later. But I suppose that could take another 14 years.

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