Advocates welcome collection of homebuyers’ language preference

Contact: National Consumer Law Center, Stephen Rouzer ([email protected]); Consumer Action, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), 301-718-2511

Advocates Welcome Mandatory Collection of Language Preference Data by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Required use of the Supplementary Consumer Information Form (SCIF) starts March 1

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Homebuyers with limited English proficiency (LEP) now have the opportunity to record their language preference when obtaining a mortgage that is sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Americans for Financial Reform, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Consumer Action, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), the National Consumer Law Center, the National Fair Housing Alliance, National Housing Resource Center, and UnidosUS celebrate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's decision to require lenders selling loans to them to collect information on borrowers’ preferred language, as well as any housing counseling services they’ve used. To do this, lenders will use the Supplementary Consumer Information Form (SCIF), which is available in six languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tagalog). This information will enable lenders to make as much information as possible about their mortgages in the language the borrower understands best.

In addition to requiring language preference information when mortgages are originated, Fannnie and Freddie will also require mortgage servicers to obtain and maintain this information, along with other fair lending data, and transfer this information whenever servicing of the loan is transferred throughout the mortgage term. Both of these requirements will go a long way towards empowering lenders and servicers to better serve borrowers with limited English proficiency (LEP).

The requirement that lenders collect information on borrower language preference follows years of efforts by consumer advocates and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to expand access to the mortgage market for LEP borrowers.

“Asking for borrowers’ language preference is a simple but impactful step forward in rooting out discrimination in mortgage lending against borrowers who have limited-English proficiency,” said Emily Hirtle, senior policy associate at Americans for Financial Reform.

“As technology improves and more in-language resources become available, knowing a borrower’s preferred language will allow lenders to easily connect LEP consumers to those resources, which will benefit both the borrower and the lender,” said Ruth Susswein, Director of Consumer Protection for Consumer Action.

The requirement that lenders collect information on borrower language preference follows years of efforts by FHFA and consumer advocates to expand access to the mortgage market for LEP borrowers. These efforts include commissioning a study from the Kleimann Group to identify major barriers for LEP borrowers in accessing mortgage credit and creating a Mortgage Translations Clearinghouse for common origination and servicing documents.

“Collecting and recording language preference is a crucial step toward serving borrowers with limited English proficiency,” said Nicole Cabañez, Skadden Fellow at the National Consumer Law Center. “Lenders and servicers must be required, not merely encouraged, to respond to the needs of LEP consumers with concrete steps to increase access to written and oral assistance. Without action, LEP consumers will continue to face significant barriers in achieving homeownership and saving their homes when they face hardship.”

“The Supplemental Consumer Information Form will provide housing counseling, homebuying education, and language preference information for homebuyers. The housing counseling information will help borrowers access affordable housing products and language preference will help lenders provide basic information to limited-English-proficient borrowers in a language they understand. During the foreclosure crisis, there were unnecessary foreclosures because mortgage companies were sending non-English speaking homeowners critical information only in English. Similarly, if a homeowner is in a delinquency crisis from unemployment, medical issues, or a weather disaster, the mortgage holder can use the form to refer them back to a housing counseling agency they know and trust. Kudos to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac for implementing this valuable consumer form,” said Bruce Dorpalen, Executive Director of National Housing Resource Center.

“Collecting and supporting borrowers’ language preferences will generate useful information we can use to make the banking system more equitable, especially for the millions of Latinos with limited-English proficiency (LEP),” said Susana Barragán, Policy Analyst at UnidosUS. “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s action is a needed first step to address long-standing barriers that have harmed historically marginalized communities, promoting homeownership and intergenerational wealth. Although asking for language preference isn’t enough, by itself, to improve outcomes, we look forward to using these data to help Latinos and immigrant and working-class communities across the country.”

"The mandatory usage of the SCIF among the Enterprises and mortgage servicers supports limited English-proficient individuals and communities," said Anju Chopra, Director of Policy at National CAPACD. "By requiring the SCIF, underserved borrowers who could benefit from  translation and interpretation services, or do not have homeownership education, can indicate their needs to servicers to help them navigate the mortgage process as well as maintain accountability in the mortgage market. We are also pleased that FHFA added in-language options in the language preference section so that LEP borrowers can easily identify their language in their native tongue."

“Mortgage transactions are very complex and high stakes, making borrowers who are not proficient in English vulnerable to mistakes, confusion or even abusive practices.  Knowing their borrowers’ language preferences will help lenders and servicers provide crucial mortgage-related information to their borrowers in the language they understand best, when that information is available. This seemingly small but significant adjustment to mortgage transactions will help prevent situations in which, because of language barriers, borrowers end up in loans they don’t understand and can’t afford, or even lose their homes to foreclosure because they didn’t understand the home-saving options available. Collecting borrowers’ language preferences is a fair lending best practice that will help borrowers protect themselves and help lenders and servicers provide the best possible information to their customers. We commend FHFA and the GSEs for taking this important step to make the mortgage market safer and fairer for all borrowers, including those whose preferred language is something other than English,” said Debby Goldberg, Vice President for Housing Policy and Special Projects at the National Fair Housing Alliance.

“We commend FHFA for not only requiring servicers to collect language preference, but also for requiring that servicers transfer a borrower’s language preference when servicing of the loan is transferred. In my experience, when a mortgage is transferred to a new servicer many things can go awry. Sometimes payments are lost, or the loss mitigation process the borrower has been engaged in with one servicer is abruptly ended by the new servicer. These issues can be extremely hard to resolve if a borrower has limited-English proficiency. The SCIF requirement will hopefully help borrowers access the help in the language they prefer and enable them to easily resolve these servicing issues,” said Loraine Martinez Bellamy, Staff Attorney at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

Related materials:
    •    Coalition Comments to the White House Task Force on New Americans re: Expanding Language Access Within the Financial Services Sector, Feb 7, 2023
    •    Group letter to FHA re: strengthening language access, November 15, 2022





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