A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins
When you're looking for a mortgage, you're likely to shop among lenders
for the most favorable interest rate, and the lowest points and other
up-front charges. When you find the most favorable terms and the lender
that you want, you'll apply to that lender. But when you get to
settlement, will you actually receive the terms you applied or bargained
for? Or will you find that the rate has changed-and that your costs have
Lock-ins on rates and points might offer you a way to ensure that what
you shop for is what you get. This brochure explains what these
All About Lock-Ins
In most cases, the terms you are quoted when you shop among lenders only
represent the terms available to borrowers settling their loan agreement
at the time of the quote. The quoted terms may not be the terms
available to you at settlement weeks or even months later. Therefore,
you should not rely on the terms quoted to you when shopping for a loan
unless a lender is willing to offer a lock-in.
What Is a Lock-In? A lock-in, also called a rate-lock or rate
commitment, is a lender's promise to hold a certain interest rate and a
certain number of points for you, usually for a specified period of
time, while your loan application is processed. (Points are additional
charges imposed by the lender that are usually prepaid by the consumer
at settlement but can sometimes be financed by adding them to the
mortgage amount. One point equals one percent of the loan amount.)
Depending upon the lender, you may be able to lock in the interest rate
and number of points that you will be charged when you file your
application, during processing of the loan, when the loan is approved,
A lock-in that is given when you apply for a loan may be useful because
it's likely to take your lender several weeks or longer to prepare,
document, and evaluate your loan application. During that time, the cost
of mortgages may change. But if your interest rate and points are locked
in, you should be protected against increases while your application is
processed. This protection could affect whether you can afford the
mortgage. However, a locked-in rate could also prevent you from taking
advantage of price decreases, unless your lender is willing to lock in a
lower rate that becomes available during this period.
It is important to recognize that a lock-in is not the same as a loan
commitment, although some loan commitments may contain a lock-in. A loan
commitment is the lender's promise to make you a loan in a specific
amount at some future time. Generally, you will receive the lender's
commitment only after your loan application has been approved. This
commitment usually will state the loan terms that have been approved
(including loan amount), how long the commitment is valid, and the
lenders conditions for making the loan such as receipt of a satisfactory
title insurance policy protecting the lender.
Will Your Lock-In Be in Writing? Some lenders have preprinted forms
that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only
make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of
application. Oral agreements can be very difficult to prove in the event
of a dispute.
Some lenders' lock-in forms may contain crucial information that is
difficult to understand or that is in fine print. For example, some
lock-in agreements may become void through some unrelated action such as
a change in the maximum rate for Veterans Administration guaranteed
loans. Thus, it is wise to obtain a blank copy of a lenders lock-in form
to read carefully before you apply for a loan. If possible, show the
lock-in form to a lawyer or real estate professional. It is wise to
obtain written, rather than verbal, lock-in agreements to make sure that
you fully understand how your lender's lock-ins and loan commitments
work and to have a tangible record of your arrangements with the lender
This record may be useful in the event of a dispute.
Will You Be Charged for a Lock-In? Lenders may charge you a fee for
locking in the rate of interest and number of points for your mortgage.
Some lenders may charge you a fee up-front, and may not refund it if you
withdraw your application, if your credit is denied, or if you do not
close the loan. Others might charge the fee at settlement. The fee might
be a flat fee, a percentage of the mortgage amount, or a fraction of a
percentage point added to the rate you lock in. The amount of the fee
and how it is charged will vary among lenders and may depend on the
length of the lock-in period.
What Options Are Available for Setting the Mortgage Terms? Lenders may
offer different options in establishing the interest rate and points
that you will be charged, such as:
* Locked-In Interest Rate-Locked-In Points. Under this option, the
lender lets you lock in both the interest rate and points quoted to
you. This option may be considered to be a true lock-in because
your mortgage terms should not increase above the interest rate and
points that you've agreed upon even if market conditions change.
* Locked-In Interest Rate-Floating Points. Under this option, the
lender lets you lock in the interest rate, while permitting or
requiring the points to rise and fall (float) with changes in
market conditions. If market interest rates drop during the lock-in
period, the points may also fall. If they rise, the points may
increase. Even if you float your points, your lender may allow you
to lock-in the points at some time before settlement at whatever
level is then current. (For instance, say you've locked in a 10 1/2
percent interest rate, but not the 3 points that went with that
rate. A month later, the market interest rate remains the same, but
the points the lender charges for that rate have dropped to 2 1/2.
With your lender's agreement, you could then lock in the lower 2
1/2 points.) If you float your points and market interest rates
increase by the time of settlement, the lender may charge a greater
number of points for a loan at the rate you've locked in. In this
case, the benefit you might have had by locking in your rate may be
lost because you'll have to pay more in upfront costs.
* Floating Interest Rate-Floating Points. Under this option, the
lender lets you lock in the interest rate and the points at some
time after application but before settlement. If you think that
rates will remain level or even go down, you may want to wait on
locking in a particular rate and points. If rates go up, you should
expect to be charged the higher rate.
Because practices vary, you may want to ask your lender whether there
are other options available to you.
How Long Are Lock-Ins Valid? Usually the lender will promise to hold a
certain interest rate and number of points for a given number of days,
and to get these terms you must settle on the loan within that time
period. Lock-ins of 30 to 60 days are common. But some lenders may offer
a lock-in for only a short period of time (for example, 7 days after
your loan is approved) while some others might offer longer lock-ins (up
to 120 days). Lenders that charge a lock-in fee may charge a higher fee
for the longer lock-in period. Usually, the longer the period, the
greater the fee.
The lock-in period should be long enough to allow for settlement, and
any other contingencies imposed by the lender, before the lock-in
expires. Before deciding on the length of the lock-in to ask for, you
should find out the average time for processing loans in your area and
ask your lender to estimate (in writing, if possible) the time needed to
process your loan. You'll also want to take into account any factors
that might delay your settlement. These may include delays that you can
anticipate in providing materials about your financial condition and, in
case you are purchasing a new house, unanticipated construction delays.
Finally, ask for a lock-in with as few contingencies as possible.
What Happens if the Lock-In Period Expires? If you don't settle within
the lock-in period, you might lose the interest rate and the number of
points you had locked in. This could happen if there are delays in
processing whether they are caused by you, others involved in the
settlement process, or the lender. For example, your loan approval could
be delayed if the lender has to wait for any documents from you or from
others such as employers, appraisers, termite inspectors, builders, and
individuals selling the home. On occasion, lenders are themselves the
cause of processing delays, particularly when loan demand is heavy. This
sometimes happens when interest rates fall suddenly.
If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the
prevailing interest rate and points. If market conditions have caused
interest rates to rise, most lenders will charge you more for your loan.
One reason why some lenders may be unable to offer the lock-in rate
after the period expires is that they can no longer sell the loan to
investors at the lock-in rate. (When lenders lock in loan terms for
borrowers, they often have an agreement with investors to buy these
loans based on the lock-in terms. That agreement may expire around the
same time that the lock-in expires and the lender may be unable to
afford to offer the same terms if market rates have increased.) Lenders
who intend to keep the loans they make may have more flexibility in
those cases where settlement is not reached before the lock-in expires.
How Can You Speed Up the Approval of the Loan? While the lender has the
greatest role in how fast your loan application is processed, there are
certain things you can do to speed up its approval. Try to find out what
documentation the lender will require from you.
Much of the information required by your lender can be brought with you
when you apply for a loan. This may help to get your application moving
more quickly through the process. When you first meet with your lender,
be sure to bring the following documents:
* The purchase contract for the house (if you don't have the
contract, check with your real estate agent or the seller).
* Your bank account numbers, the address of your bank branch and your
latest bank statement, plus pay stubs, W-2 forms, or other proof of
employment and salary, to help the lender check your finances.
* If you are self-employed, balance sheets, tax returns for 2-3
previous years, and other information about your business.
* Information about debts, including loan and credit card account
numbers and the names and addresses of your creditors.
* Evidence of your mortgage or rental payments, such as cancelled
* Certificate of Eligibility from the Veterans Administration if you
want a VA-guaranteed loan. Your lender may be able to help you
Be sure to respond promptly to your lender's requests for information
while your loan is being processed. It is also a good idea to call the
lender and real estate agent from time to time. By calling occasionally,
you can check on the status of your application, and offer to help
contact others such as employers who may need to provide documents and
other information for your loan. It is also helpful to keep notes on
your contacts with the lender so that you will have a record of your
Ask About Lock-Ins
When you're ready to settle on your loan, you'll want to get the loan
terms that you've locked in. To increase that likelihood, it is
important to learn as much as you can about what the lender is promising
you before you apply for a loan. Ask for the following information when
you shop for a loan:
Lock-Ins and Fees
* Does the lender offer a lock-in of the interest rate and points?
* When will the lender let you lock in the interest rate and points?
When you apply? When the loan is approved?
* Will the lock-in be in writing? If the lock-in is not in writing,
you will have no record of the lender's agreement with you in case
of a dispute.
* Does the lender charge a fee to lock in your interest rate? Does
the fee increase for longer lock-in periods? If so, how much?
* If you have locked in a rate, and the lender's rate drops, can you
lock in at the lower rate? Does the lender charge you an additional
fee to lock in the lower rate?
* Can you float your interest rate and points for now, and lock them
Loan Processing Time
* How long does the lender expect to take to process your loan?
* What has been the lender's average time for processing loans
* Has the lender's loan volume increased? Heavy volume might increase
the lender's average processing time.
Expiration of Lock-Ins
* What rate will be charged if the lock-in expires before
settlement-the rate in effect when the lock-in expires?
* If you don't settle within the lock-in period, will the lender
refund some or all of your application or lock-in fees if you
decide to cancel the loan application?
* If your lock-in expires and you want to get another lock-in at the
rate in effect at the time of the expiration, will the lender
charge an additional fee for the second lock-in?
Complaints About Lock-Ins
Knowing what to look for puts you in a better position to decide
whether, when, and how long to lock in mortgage terms. Also, by helping
to keep the loan process moving, you can lessen the chance that your
lock-in will run out before settlement.
But what if your lock-in does lapse? If you believe that the lapse was
due to delays caused by the lender or someone else involved in the loan
process, you should try first to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement
with the lender. If that effort fails, consider writing to the
appropriate state or federal regulatory agency.
Some lender actions, such as offering lock-in terms which are impossible
to fulfill, failing to process your loan diligently, or causing your
lock-in to expire are improper--and may even be illegal. In addition,
because you may have contractual rights under your lock-in or loan
commitment, you may want to consult with an attorney. Be aware, though,
that complaints may not be resolved as quickly as may be necessary for a
Depending upon their authority under applicable state or federal law,
regulatory agencies may either attempt to help you resolve your
complaint directly or record your complaint and recommend other action.
State consumer protection offices, banking authorities, and offices of
the attorney general can be contacted regarding complaints against many
lenders doing business in the state. (Some states have enacted
legislation to specifically address complaints about mortgage lock-ins.)
In addition, some lenders are directly supervised by federal regulatory
agencies, as shown in the list that follows:
Division of Credit Practices
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Federal Trade Commission
601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
Federally Insured Savings and Loan Institutions and Federally
Chartered Savings Banks
Office of Thrift Supervision
1700 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20552
State Member Banks of the Federal Reserve System
Division of Consumer and Community Affairs
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
20th and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20551
Compliance Management Division
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
250 E Street, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20219
Federally Insured Non-Member State-Chartered Banks
and Savings Banks
Office of Consumer Programs
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
550 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20429
Federal Credit Unions
National Credit Union Administration
1776 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20456
A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins
This booklet was prepared in consultation with the following
American Bankers Association
Comptroller of the Currency
Consumer Federation of America
Credit Union National Association, Inc.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation
Federal National Mortgage Association
Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council
Federal Trade Commission
Independent Bankers Association of America
Mortgage Bankers Association of America
Mortgage Insurance Companies of America
National Association of Federal Credit Unions
National Association of Home Builders
National Association of Realtors
National Credit Union Administration
Office of Special Adviser to the President for Consumer Affairs
Savings and Community Bankers of America
The Consumer Bankers Association
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Federal Reserve Board and the Office of Thrift Supervision prepared
this booklet on mortgage lock-ins in response to a request from the
House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs and in
consultation with many other agencies and trade and consumer groups. It
is designed to help consumers understand an important aspect of home
We believe a fully informed consumer is in the best position to make a
sound financial choice. This booklet will provide useful basic
information about obtaining the terms of credit you really want. It
cannot provide all the answers you will need, but we believe it is a
good starting point.
The information contained in this brochure is intended to help you ask
the right questions when shopping for a loan. It is not a replacement
for professional advice. Talk with mortgage lenders, real estate agents,
attorneys, and other advisors, about lending practices, mortgage
instruments, and your own interests before you commit to any specific
Ask your lender or real estate agent for the following related
* A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Refinancings
* A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs
* Consumer Handbook on Adjustable Rate Mortgages