For the past two years, Valley National Bancorp has touted its $499 home refinance program in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In radio and TV advertisements, it's chief executive, Gerald H. Lipkin, tells customers there are no hidden fees or "catches" for refinancing a mortgage as large as $1 million in those two states. Valley National also offers $1,999 refinances for homeowners in the New York City area, on mortgages of up to $417,000.
But there is fine print. Depending on when their refinances close, some customers end up paying additional interest or taxes — and complaining about the extra costs.
Valley National, a $16 billion-asset bank in Wayne, N.J., provides all legally required disclosures of those additional costs in its radio, print and television ads, according to Al Engel, its executive vice president of consumer loans. But some customers still register their disappointment. "Regardless of how much disclosure we do, we always get a certain number of customers who say they thought it was only $499, and we have to explain that the taxes and interim interest are not part of bank closing costs," he said in an interview. Engel said "the entire process from A to Z" to refinance a home loan is covered by the advertised flat fee. That includes all bank fees, settlement fees and title insurance, but not interest expenses, depending on when a loan closes, and the funding of escrow accounts for taxes and insurance.
Valley National says it has one of the cheapest home refinance programs on the East Coast, where it has 211 branches in 16 counties stretching from central New Jersey to Long Island. Engel said the bank's refinance customers save about $2,500 on average in the fees they pay. (But many other refinancings are also relatively inexpensive, particularly those covered by the government's expanded Home Affordable Refinance Program, known as Harp 2.0, which removed caps on loan-to-value ratios and eliminated certain loan fees. Lenders that refinance borrowers in the Harp program do not have to reunderwrite a loan, which dramatically lowers the cost as well.)
Valley National closed its acquisition of State Bancorp in Jericho, N.Y., in the first quarter, and has been aggressively marketing home refinancings through State Bank's branch network. In the first quarter, it processed nearly 4,000 refinance applications.