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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2011

Consumer hot line up and running

Federal service available for complaints, disputes over mortgages


WASHINGTON -- Got a beef with your mortgage lender? Is your bank unresponsive when you complain that your escrow account is fouled up and making your monthly payments needlessly high?

Did your loan officer bait-and-switch you into a more costly home loan than you were originally promised? Or worse yet: Did your home-loan servicer ignore you when you told him you've had an unexpected drop in income and needed a modification to avoid missing payments?

If any of these situations sound familiar, here's a heads-up about the newest source of federal help: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's home-mortgage complaint and dispute resolution hot line. It went live Dec. 1.

To submit a complaint, go to the bureau's Web site www.consumerfinance.gov or call the toll-free line 1-855-411-2372 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern on weekdays.

The bureau was created by last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and is supposed to look out for your interests in banking, financial products, home loans and all other forms of consumer credit.

The bureau's credit-card complaint service, which has handled 5,000 complaints since it began in late July, is likely to provide a template for the agency's approach to mortgage problems, which are expected to be more voluminous. When a borrower submits a formal complaint to the bureau, complete with account numbers and other key identifiers, the information will be sent immediately to the lender or mortgage servicer named in the complaint using a secure Web portal.

The lender must then review the information, contact the customer if needed, and determine what action to take to resolve the matter. Next, the lender is supposed to report its action, if any, to the bureau, which sends it on to the borrower for review. Throughout the process, according to the bureau, borrowers "can log onto the [agency's] secure 'consumer portal' or call the toll-free number to receive updates, provide additional information, and review responses" from the lender.

If the dispute focuses on what is primarily a matter of state regulation or is beyond the purview of the bureau, it may be referred to other agencies.

Similarly, if the dispute points to fraud or identity theft, it likely will be referred to either a federal or a state law enforcement authority.

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