What is the Secure Settlements program all about?
Secure Settlements is the mortgage industry’s only third-party closing professional verification service, addressing warehouse bank, lender, and title underwriter risk management at mortgage closings. Secure Settlements has established evaluation criteria, verified independently through public and private databases, with which it vets closing professionals. The purpose is to create a national database of bank approved closing professionals to establish uniformity of risk evaluation and assist industry players in knowing their partners at the closing table.
Who is Eligible for the Secure Settlements program?
Attorneys and settlement agents must pass a list of credentialing criteria that covers everything from E&O coverage, proven industry experience, valid licensing and bonding where required, clean credit, criminal and litigation backgrounds, trust account safety, and other proprietary criteria. Approximately 85% of all applicants meet risk standards, although a high risk score does not mean that a professional is not competent in their skills, only that they do not meet the stringent and industry-focused criteria established for Secure Settlements’ verification and demanded by the mortgage lending industry. Any professional who clears the risk process but whose status changes due to licensing, insurance, or other risk factors, may be assigned a higher risk score which could affect their ability to work with Secure Settlements’ lender clients.
How does Secure Settlements verification benefit the closing professional?
Professionals who are verified by Secure Settlements are vetted annually, rather than by each lender prior to every closing (subject to ongoing monitoring). They are also eligible for free monthly best practice tips, fraud education, and industry trends, as well as reduced-cost E&O insurance, and are marketed to consumers and banks to assist in business development. Additionally, being vetted by Secure Settlements elevates their practices to a level of trust and professionalism that benefits the entire mortgage industry.
How does Secure Settlements market my services to other lenders (and consumers)?
Secure Settlements’ list of vetted agents is made available to warehouse banks, lenders, and title underwriters nationwide through contractual arrangements. These lenders and underwriters utilize the Secure Settlements list as their key source of closing professionals for their mortgage closing business. Vetted professionals will enjoy a special status that will increase the likelihood they will be selected by lenders and consumers for new business.
How can I apply?
Applicants may apply online by completing an application form authorizing Secure Settlements to conduct a public records search to verify license, insurance and other information. The process takes approximately 30 minutes. The review takes five to seven business days, assuming the application is fully completed. If there is something missing, the application will be placed on hold until Secure Settlements contacts the applicant to obtain the missing information. Rush approvals, at the request of warehouse bank, lender clients, will be processed within one to three business day.
What happens if my credentials are not cleared?
The Secure Settlements program is not a measure of talent or competency. The program employs certain risk evaluation metrics to establish a minimum level of risk tolerance for Secure Settlements clients. Any applicant whose credentials are not cleared may take advantage of the Secure Settlements appeal process and attempt to resolve issues that may have been discovered through the evaluation process. Secure Settlements makes every effort to verify the information obtained in its process. However, due to the fact that some of the data relied upon is from public sources, the data may be inaccurate or require explanation or clarification. In those instances, Secure Settlements will contact the closing professional in question and work to resolve the issues in good faith.
What is the application cost?
The fee is free if you are covered by a lender's subscription agreement, otherwise it costs $299 per closing professional for one year of enrollment. Notaries and settlement company employees who do not handle trust funds, but only attend closings and manage documents, pay only $99 due to the nature of their limited services. Abstract agencies, settlement companies, and law firms must pay a fee for each employee who will be conducting closings, and title agencies must also have their licensed title producer vetted, whether or not they actually close loans.
What is the Cancellation Policy?
If you choose to cancel your registration purchase once it has been submitted, you will still be charged the registration fee as costs were incurred. We will however cancel your registration and cease future processing upon formal request. Cancellation requests should be directed to Support@securesettlements.com.
What is the Refund Policy?
Secure Settlements has a No Refund Policy. This no refund policy applies to payments for fees rendered in connection with applications submitted to SSI for services performed. You understand that when your online application is submitted via our website, this automatically triggers automated services to be performed and costs to be incurred. If payment is received prior to submission of an online application, a refund request may be honored.
To request a refund prior to submitting an online application, please send a formal request to Support@securesettlements.com.
Why is this service important?
Regulators have recommended third-party vetting of vendor relationships in the mortgage industry since at least 2005; however, very little was done to comply until now. The development of the national mortgage licensing system for loan originators, the advent of Dodd-Frank legislation, and the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all create enhanced expectations that banks do more to ensure proper risk evaluation and fraud deterrent management in mortgage transactions, for the benefit of consumers and all parties. The concept for Secure Settlements was established in 2002, well before the mortgage industry collapse. Today with vetting required by FNMA, FDIC, OCC, NCUA, & the CFPB, the need has caught up with the solution.
Is Secure Settlements a licensing agency, association, or affiliated with the government?
Secure Settlements is not a licensing agency. We do not measure competency and skill. Our services do not take the place of those licensing authorities which establish criteria for attorneys, notaries, realtors and title producers who position themselves as experts in their fields. Secure Settlements requires proof of proper licensing as a part of its risk management program. Secure Settlements is also not a trade association. Trade associations such as the ABA, ALTA, NAR, and National Association of Notaries provide member benefits, lobbying and other valuable resources to assist their membership. We recommend them and intend to work collaboratively with them for the benefit of consumers and the mortgage industry as a whole. Finally, we are not a government entity, nor are we endorsed by any government entity; however we strongly support government efforts to protect consumers and establish reasonable risk management processes and procedures to reduce the risk of financial harm to all parties to mortgage and real estate transactions. We are particularly supportive of the efforts of HUD and the CFPB to protect consumers from harm caused by parties who engage in negligence and fraud in connection with mortgage transactions.
Are you the only company doing this? Why have I not heard of a vetting requirement before?
Secure Settlements is not the only company which offers professional vetting services for closing professionals. There are several others nationwide. If you were directed to Secure Settlements, it merely means that a lender you work with has chosen our process as part of their risk management program. If you are vetted by Secure Settlements, you will not have to be re-vetted if you work with any of Secure Settlements’ clients.
I work in a state that protects the rights of consumers to choose their own closing professional. Doesn't your process deny them the right to independent representation?
Absolutely not. Neither Secure Settlements nor its clients dictate who may represent a consumer in connection with a real estate transaction. However, Secure Settlements’ bank clients do have the right to establish reasonable, non-discriminatory procedures to safeguard their money and documents, including a process to verify identity, credentials and risk status of anyone who acts on their behalf at a closing. In the event a consumer insists on using an agent or attorney who is not vetted, refuses to be vetted, or is determined to be a risk, that individual can represent the consumer in all contract negotiations, loan approval issues, and related matters – including attending the closing. They will not, however, be permitted to disburse funds or handle the closing documents that must be recorded and/or returned to the lender to meet regulatory, compliance, legal and risk issues important to the bank and subsequent investors.
You are asking for my personal information. Why is this required and is your website safe?
The information is necessary to conduct a meaningful and accurate identity verification and background check. Our website uses the latest technology for the secure transmission of data. Once the data reaches us, we adhere to strict data privacy rules, with limited staff access and no distribution or sharing of personal data with any third party. We also have cyber security and errors and omissions insurance to cover any losses, although we have not experienced nor do we expect to experience any event that would put your personal data at risk. We continue to enhance our systems and always respect your right to privacy and the expectation of the utmost care being taken with your information.
I’m an attorney. I am licensed, have malpractice insurance, am subject to trust account regulations, and am a party to a CPL, why do I have to be vetted? How does this benefit my clients?
Licensing bodies, even those for lawyers, do not actively supervise attorney activity, they only discipline attorneys when and if they fail to meet ethics rules or engage in fraud. While it is true that state courts do establish trust account guidelines, the courts cannot “supervise” trust accounts in the sense of verifying their use, they only establish rules for their use and “supervise” in the sense that they have the power to regulate and discipline failures to meet their requirements. When a misuse of trust funds is reported, by then it is too late.
Depository banks are required to and do report “suspicious activity” under AML rules, such as large cash deposits, but they have no mechanism to identify whether funds merely removed from an account are done improperly as they are not privy to the closing details.
The CPL covers theft of funds, after the fact. It is not preventative, it is reactive. It is also not insurance and is not a guarantee that banks and consumers will be made whole. Its scope is limited and does not cover all bad acts an attorney might engage in, such as conspiracy, willful blindness and also negligence that does not cause title to be impaired.
Malpractice insurance is also reactive, it is not risk management. It comes into play after an event. It is also claims made, and no lender monitors policies today, which means that if an attorney fails to pay a premium or cancels the policy, even after an event, but before a claim is made, there is no coverage. Finally, malpractice coverage also does not cover intentional acts.
In polls commissioned by SSI, consumers have indicated support for programs that would manage real estate attorney risk, and also have indicated that they believe attorneys are not sufficiently regulated for the potential harm they can cause at a closing.
My Bank Information is Private, Isn't Your Request for this Information an invasion of my Privacy?
Your bank information is required to verify the account information prior to a lender wiring you their money and entrusting it to you in good faith. It is expected by the bank that the money will only be wired to a valid US Financial Institution trust or escrow account, and not commingled with operating or personal funds. Lenders already require the collection of this information today as a condition of acting as an agent. Also the information collected, bank name, account name, ABA number, account number and signatory are all publicly distributed, freely, every time a check is issued. Therefore the information, while important, is not kept private at all, and is available to each and every person who sees a copy of the check. Nevertheless, SSI employs the latest technology and safety standards guarding personal information, all of our employees are tested and monitored, there is no selling of information, and all data is stored on secure servers. SSI also maintains E&O, Crime and Cyber Security Liability Insurance.