VA Predatory Lenders – Borrower Beware

August 12, 2011

My dad is in his mid-80’s and very sound of mind, with a sharp memory. But he also suffers some of the annoyances of aging like failing hearing only partly improved by hearing aids, and a distaste for the fast pace of life today. He is a veteran of WW II and has a small VA mortgage with a low interest rate on his modest townhouse in Stockton CA. VA Loans are a great thing, and usually have advantages such as lower interest rates not available to mere citizens like me. Dad’s  income is sufficient to live well, drive a luxury car, and remain in his home for as long as he is of sound mind and body. Dad called me a few weeks ago because he had been hounded by a caller who insisted that he is associated with the VA, and my dad needs to take advantage of a loan interest reduction program. The interest rate reduction programs (IRRL) are a feature of Veterans Loans, and have specific rules. The new rate must be lower unless the old loan was an ARM and it is being replaced with a fixed rate mortgage.

Dad called me because he wanted to meet with these folks, even though he had his suspicions. He has a hard time hearing sometimes, and was worried he would miss or misinterpret something they might say. I had my suspicions too, so I told Dad I’d attend the meeting. We met with a young man from Amerigroup Mortgage Corporation a few days later.

The meeting was ridiculous. The “agent” first presented his “license” in a plastic sheet protector, and then some “credentials” about the company. This company has no web site, at least not one on the first few pages of a google search. But by following some threads, I found the parent company, Mortgage Investors Corporation. If you click on the tab that says “Click here for Your monthly estimated savings” it just asks for your phone number. When you close that box without entering anything you get one of those annoying “Really, you don’t want to save money” widows that you also have to close.

There are complaints about the company on several sites. I had already done the research, and read the complaints before the meeting. The Amerigroup guy’s pitch was exactly like that experienced by other (complaining) vets. He had a 1″ binder he set up like a tiny flip chart, and went through a childishly crude  “analysis” of how he could save Dad lots of money. Then he took my Dad’s last loan statement, and made some calculations on a legal pad, and proudly told my Dad he could save him $54.00 per month. “What would you do with an extra $54.00 per month,” he asked my Dad.

Dad looked at me and rolled his eyes. He looked at the young man and said, “What is the interest rate, and is it an adjustable rate mortgage, because I don’t want an adjustable rate mortgage?” The answer was of the nature of “Do you want to save money?  If so, what does the interest rate and ARM vs. fixed matter…” Dad had asked if it was an ARM when he called to make the appointment, and the company refused to tell him.

Turns out it was an adjustable rate mortgage that definitely starts lower than my Dad’s current low interest loan. But it will adjust. Dad asked if he could keep the figures the guy had drawn up on the legal pad, so he and I could later discuss the opportunity and explore the possibility of making a change. He said he could not leave them, because they could be used against the company if we ever sued them, and the estimate was not a promise, just an estimate.

So we thanked him for coming, and declined at that point.

Well, here’s the part where, EVEN WITH ME IN THE ROOM, (and I  told the guy in the beginning I was Dad’s son, and AN ATTORNEY), the guy just lets loose on my Dad. He did not swear, but he raised his voice. He said, “I won’t even get enough money to cover my gas to drive over here today. At least you could complete an application.” Dad politely, but getting a little hot under the collar says, “You won’t even give me time to think about the terms, or share any written materials with me, so no, I won’t be filling out an application.” The Amerigroup professional replied: “I don’t get you people, why wouldn’t you want to save money?”

I stood, went to the front door, opened it an said, “This meeting is over.” He angrily packed up his briefcase and left without even a farewell.

The VA’s web site makes no recommendations about where to get your IRRL (Interest Rate Reduction Loan), but they do suggest you interview several lenders and compare. This company doesn’t leave anything to use for a rational comparison.  In 2007 this company has it’s CA License revoked, and was ordered by the Commissioner of Corporations to stop business in the State of California. They eventually rehabilitated in 2009, and are back in business preying on elderly vets with young strong males who apparently use intimidation to make the sale.

The next evening Dad was over for dinner along with my in-laws, and he received a call on his mobile phone. It was a call center solicitation, again, VERY HIGH PRESSURE, from the same company, Amerigroup. Dad handed me his phone to take the call. I told the saleswoman we had already met with their agent, declined the offer, and found the process to be terribly unprofessional and exploitive. Even after that, she continued to try to pitch me another visit with one of their agents. The only way I could end the call was to hang up as she was speaking. Since then Dad continues to get calls and letters from the company almost weekly.

So, beware these characters and others like them. All these types of IRRL products are available from brick and mortar banks in your neighborhood. If you have a VA loan and think you can save on a new interest rate, then take the VA’s advice and get three estimates and loan offers. Any legitimate bank will give you an estimate and illustrations in writing. You can compare them in the quiet of your VA financed home, and talk to your attorney or your friends and family, and make a rational decision that is right for you.

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