WASHINGTON — Financial regulators Thursday said they are prepared to take action against banks and other mortgage servicers that don't give the proper help to military homeowners forced to move to a new duty location, a warning shot meant to help prevent relocating service members from defaulting on their loans.
Citing concerns about misleading or abusive practices, the group of regulators — which includes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the National Credit Union Administration and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — issued guidance to ensure that mortgage servicers comply with consumer-protection laws that apply to service members ordered by the military to relocate to a new location.
In addition, large mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) have agreed to allow military members who are ordered to switch bases and who are still current on their mortgages to sell their homes through a short sale — one in which the homeowner sells the home for less than the outstanding mortgage amount.
The regulator for the government-controlled companies, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said it made the decision because military orders to transfer base have forced military members into difficult financial straits. Many are forced to keep two homes or default on their loans.
"It is in everyone's interest for the men and women serving in our armed forces to focus on the important job they are doing defending our country, rather than worry about the maintenance and leasing of a property in another jurisdiction," said Edward DeMarco, acting director of the housing regulator, in a prepared statement.
The agencies said firms must let service members know about available assistance options, such as the Treasury Department's Making Home Affordable Program that gives access to the government's loan-modification program.
"Those who serve our country deserve to be given the best service by their mortgage servicer," said Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray. "Permanent Change of Station orders can complicate a servicemember's homeownership decisions in ways that civilians may not experience. This guidance provides specific notice to mortgage servicers that this country already has substantial laws in place to help military members in this still-recovering housing market."
Service members who receive so-called Permanent Change of Station orders often must move quickly, and their household income may drop if the servicemember can't find a renter willing to pay a price that will cover the mortgage payment. Service members also can face reduced income if the spouse can't immediately find a job in the new location.
The federal agencies said military homeowners face unique challenges and need timely information about their loan-modification and short-sale options in order to avoid defaulting on their loan obligations.
"If the agencies determine that a servicer has engaged in any acts or practices that are unfair, deceptive, or abusive, or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws and regulations the agencies will take appropriate supervisory and enforcement actions to address violations that harm consumers and seek all appropriate corrective actions, including requiring the mortgage servicer to strengthen its programs and processes," the agencies said in their guidance.