What Is a Mortgage "Overage?"

June 23, 2003, Revised November 9, 2006, January 19, 2011

"I eavesdropped on my loan officer and heard him say that he was on his way to a ‘nice overage’. What is an overage?"

Mortgage Overage Defined

It is money extracted from your pocket by the loan officer. In the high-stakes poker game that is the home mortgage market, you lost. And the major reason you lost was probably that you didn’t know you were playing.

Loan officers who work for lenders or for mortgage brokers (in a one-broker shop, the broker is the loan officer) receive updated prices every morning. These consist of rates and points for different loan programs. They are the "posted prices."

The loan officer who executes a deal at the posted price gets paid a commission that may be .5-.7% of the loan amount. On a $100,000 loan, the commission might be $500-$700. But if the loan officer can induce the borrower to pay more than the posted price, the commission rises. It now includes part of an overage.

For example, the posted price on a particular loan is 6% and 0 points but the loan officer induces the borrower to pay 6% and 1 point, that point is the overage. It is worth $1,000 on a $100,000 loan, and typically the loan officer gets half. So a "nice overage" can double the loan officer’s commission.

Overages Usually Involve Rebates

Overages are heavily concentrated on high-rate loans with negative points, called "rebates". For example, the lender posting a price of 6% and 0 points might also quote 6.5% and -1.5 points. The lender will pay 1.5 points on a 6.50% loan.

Loan officers push higher-rate plus rebate combinations because they can collect an overage without taking any cash out of borrowers’ pockets. If the loan officer in the example above quotes 6.50% and -.5 points to the borrower, the other point of rebate becomes the overage. The borrower pays for the overage in the interest rate for the next 5 or 10 years, but that’s down the road.

Overages associated primarily with rebate loans are an equal opportunity abuse, practiced by lenders and mortgage brokers alike. The only difference is that mortgage brokers who retain rebates from lenders leave a trail in the Good Faith Estimate of disclosure, where it can be discovered by the borrower, although usually too late to do anything about it. Rebates retained as overages by loan officer employees of lenders disappear without a trace.

In Defense of Overages

Defenders of overages argue that they merely reflect wheeling and dealing characteristic of many markets. They point out that sometimes borrowers turn the tables, forcing loan officers to cut the price below the posted price, which results in an "underage." The automobile market works essentially the same way.

The weakness of this argument is that most people who buy automobiles understand that wheeling and dealing is part of the game, but most mortgage borrowers don’t. They are innocents. That’s why the number of underages is much smaller than the number of overages.

Avoiding Overages

Now that you are no longer innocent, how do you protect yourself? You either confront the loan officer, or you switch to a distribution channel where there are no overages.

By confrontation, I mean that you let the loan officer know that you know that mortgage prices are not engraved in cement, and that you have or will explore other options. Remember, she has been sizing you up from the moment you walked in as to whether you are a good candidate for an overage. Your job is to convince her that you are not. Don’t be afraid to ask point blank, "You won’t charge me an overage, will you?" Its your money.

Borrowers who find even the mildest confrontation disagreeable, and who are therefore ripe for an overage plucking, should avoid commissioned loan officers. For a set fee you negotiate at the outset, you can retain an Upfront Mortgage Broker (UMB) to act as your agent in shopping for a loan. Or you can deal with an Upfront Mortgage Lender, who operate on-line and do not allow employees to deviate from the posted prices shown on their screens.

Will Overages Disappear?

New regulations expected in 2011 may make overages a thing of the past. See End of the Mortgage Bazaar?

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