In the ongoing Refinance From Hell saga, we finally have an outcome. Not the one we wanted, but one we are satisfied is fair.
September 6, 2013

Last month, I wrote about Wells Fargo Bank and our home refinancing adventure. For those who missed it, you can find the entire story here, but the long and short of the matter is that we applied in late April when interest rates were low, the documentation process dragged on and on and on, and ultimately the clock ran down on our application because the processors didn't actually ask us to produce what they needed to approve the loan until it was too late. We filed a complaint with the CFPB about it, and waited.

If you're one of those people reading this who is skeptical about the CFPB, I'm here to tell you not to be. That agency really and truly does exist to hold banks and financial institutions accountable for how consumers are treated.

Our outcome, while not what we had hoped for, was certainly more satisfying than it would have been without the CFPB. After we filed our complaint, they sent it over to Wells Fargo for a response. It was referred to an executive vice president almost immediately. Within a few days we had received a telephone call from her letting us know they were investigating the complaint and would let us know what the next steps would be.

At the end of August, we received a followup from the CFPB letting us know that Wells Fargo had requested additional time to resolve things.

We then received a call late last week from Wells saying that they would allow us to reapply for the same loan under the same terms and would assign their A-team of processors to the application. And this is where it began, and where it ended.

Because of the sequester, my husband switched jobs in mid-August. His current job is as an independent contractor rather than a W-2 employee. He informed Wells of the change, and Friday morning they advised that the application would be rejected because of that change. After the mortgage meltdown, independent contractors are considered to be high-risk mortgagees, and so do not qualify for prime mortgages.

That's disappointing, of course. However, I feel like I do owe some props to the Wells Fargo team who responded to the CFPB complaint for being responsive to it and doing everything they could to remedy the situation. At the time we filed the complaint, employment circumstances hadn't changed. When they responded to the complaint we did have concerns that it would be a problem, which is why we made a point out of disclosing it up front.

The true hero here is the CFPB. That sense of abject frustration that I had when we performed on all of the last-minute requirements Wells Fargo threw at us only to have the application declined anyway had an outlet. When we filed that complaint, the feeling that we were powerless in the face of what could be characterized as anything from incompetence to outright intentionality dissipated. That big bank might have been able to tell us they could do whatever they wanted with us, but they couldn't do that to the CFPB.

They were accountable. Wells responded by affirming that we hadn't been treated properly, and then set about trying to make that wrong right. It wouldn't have happened without the CFPB. It would have been another "take that, consumer!" moment that we've seen far too many of. From outrageous credit card fees to overdraft fees, consumers have never been considered a real voice when dealing direct with banks. Until now.

Whenever you hear Republicans talking about wanting to do away with that agency, remember this story. Share it. Tell everyone you know that they are no longer at the mercy of banks and financial institutions who do as they please with no explanation or appearance of accountability. That agency is there to speak and to intercede on our behalf.

It is a prime example of how government really can work for people, and one that is operating with the vision that Elizabeth Warren had for it. Maybe our specific case didn't have the desired outcome, but then again, maybe it did. Because in the end, we wanted to be treated fairly, and we were after the CFPB intervened.

Note to banks, especially big ones like Wells Fargo: If you have gotten so big that your culture has forgotten the consumer, I suggest you change that culture. If we had been treated the way you've treated us this last time around the first time, we wouldn't have had to complain. Your response was commendable, but you might want to ask yourselves whether it should take consumer complaints to get that response.

Finally, this really does raise a question about whether it's prudent for one financial institution to control nearly 40 percent of the mortgages in this country. As a pure free market argument, that kind of control just about guarantees a devil-may-care attitude toward borrowers, because they have such a lock on the market. That question won't be settled by our complaint, but the reasons giving rise to the complaint stem from it. If they were competing for our business in a truly free market, it's unlikely we would ever have gotten to this point. But because they are in control of such a huge block of the market, consumers become an afterthought.

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