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Maine bill hits lending abuses


Published :
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 21:09
By : Agencies
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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Supporters of a bill to crack down on predatory mortgage lending practices said Monday the bill would make Maine among the first states to address a looming national crisis.

The bill has bipartisan cosponsorship of more than 100 legislators and nearly 40 consumer, lending, religious and other organizations. It seeks to prevent abuses blamed mostly on practices of a proliferating number of out-of-state brokers and lenders doing business in Maine.

Predator lenders try to turn quick profits on home loans by hitting homeowners with balloon payments and hidden and unreasonable fees. Sometimes those and other tricks result in foreclosures or ruined finances.

Predatory lending 'is a crime so great, that it steals not only from one individual, but from many generations and from the whole community,' said the bill's chief sponsor, House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland.

In a case cited at a State House news conference Monday, Donna Gillette said she sought to buy a house in Sanford for $165,000. Gillette said she was offered an adjustable-rate mortgage with no money down and a starting interest rate of 8 percent.

But before closing, the banker tore up the loan agreement and said the interest rate would have to be 10 percent, she said. By the time a second lien loan and other fees were tacked on, the cost of the house had shot up to $188,000, which included $12,000 in settlement costs financed into the loan, Gillette said.

Luckily, Gillette was able to refinance at a 5 percent interest rate. 'It was sheer luck that I got out of this loan trap,' said Gillette, adding she's spoken to others who found themselves in similar mortgage binds. In some cases, foreclosures result.

Coastal Enterprises Inc., whose study released last year of predatory lending helped bring about the legislation, says foreclosures in Maine have been increasing for the last four quarters.

Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill, warned that predatory lending is a looming national crisis comparable to the savings and loan debacle of several years ago.

'These are not the practices of local banks or local credit unions of Maine,' he said.

Many of the abuses are tied to loan brokers and lenders based out of state, said Will Lund, director of the state Office of Consumer Credit Regulation. Lund said he's aware of fewer than than a half dozen other states that are taking steps to prevent predatory practices.

Among them is Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick last week called for tougher regulatory controls over brokers and lenders, legal help for homeowners facing foreclosure, and a crackdown on people who engage in mortgage fraud.

Indiana's General Assembly, which created a homeowner protection unit in 2004 in response to predatory lending in that state, has been considering bills this year to make the unit permanent.

Maine's complex legislation would ban the practice of 'flipping' loans, or persuading borrowers to refinance without any benefit to the consumer, in order to generate higher fees. It would restrict amounts that could be charged in fees, and require lenders to sell consumers loans that truly meet their ability to repay.

New protections would also be given for high-rate loans that pose a higher risk. The law would make lenders more accountable and bolster enforcement and civil and criminal penalties.

Among the supporters are the Maine Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, AARP, the Maine Council of Churches and the NAACP Portland and Bangor branches.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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