If you have a home mortgage, you are required to carry homeowners insurance. In nearly every case, the premiums are paid from an escrow account by the mortgage servicer.

Increasingly, homeowners like Tamara, of Houston, Tex., have complained that the mortgage company unilaterally insures the property and charges the homeowner. In Tamara's case, she said her premiums had always been paid out of escrow.

“One year we received a notice that Bank of America was attaching their own insurance because ours had been cancelled the year before,” Tamara wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “We never received any notice of this from our carrier or the bank until they attached their own insurance. They claimed they paid our home insurance from escrow, the money was definitely gone, but the carrier said they never received it.”

Calling on feds to investigate

The National Consumer Law Center is calling on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate what it calls “forced-placed insurance” (FPI), calling it a growing problem for both borrowers and investors.

FPI, also known as lender-placed insurance, is insurance placed on the borrower’s home when the borrower fails to maintain their own insurance policy or provide evidence of insurance as required by the loan agreement.

FPI is a group credit insurance policy sold to the lender or loan servicer and names the lender or loan servicer as the insured. The lender or servicer pays the premium for the insurance when the coverage is placed and then bills the borrower for the FPI premium.

Profitable tactic

The National Consumer Law Center says the practice is increasing because it is lucrative for the lenders.

“FPI is much more expensive than regular, voluntary homeowners insurance—up to ten times more expensive,” the consumer group said in a report. “Because the additional cost of FPI is normally added to a homeowner’s mortgage payments, the high cost of this type of insurance can drive a borrower into default or prevent a borrower who is already in arrears from catching-up on missed payments. The difference in cost, however, is unjustified.”

The group notes that the recent mortgage abuse settlement federal and state governments reached with five major lenders specifically called for reducing instances of FPI. It says Fannie Mae has also revised its servicing guidelines in an attempt to address the problem.

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