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Regulators Unable to Provide Date for Banks’ SAFE Act Compliance

The Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act (SAFE Act) stipulates that residential loan officers at banks, credit unions, and other federally regulated financial institutions must register their names and fingerprints with a national database.

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Financial institutions must establish policies and procedures for ""SAFE Act compliance"":http://mortgage.nationwidelicensingsystem.org/fedreg/Pages/default.aspx by October 1, 2010, but the deadline by which they must meet the terms of the new regulation and employees must be registered is unknown. Also up in the air is which regulatory agency will have jurisdiction over the database and enforcing the new rule when registrations do commence.

The ""Office of the Comptroller of the Currency"":http://www.occ.treas.gov (OCC) sent ""letters to the management"":http://www.occ.gov/ftp/bulletin/2010-33.html of the banks it oversees last week, stating, ""Because the necessary modifications to the registry have not been completed, national banks and their employees are +not+ required to comply with the final rule's registration requirements at this time.""

OCC officials say the SAFE database will not be capable of accepting registrations before January 2011, at the earliest. When the system is ready, financial institutions

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will be notified in advance, and their residential mortgage loan originator employees will then have 180 days to comply with the rule's initial registration requirements.

The agency also explained that the Dodd-Frank Reform Act will transfer the regulatory responsibilities under the SAFE Act to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, eventually. The designated transfer date is no earlier than January 2011, but could be extended to July 2012, according to the OCC.

The SAFE Act was passed two years ago. It creates a central database of mortgage originators' and mortgage brokers' names and fingerprints in order for regulators to perform background checks and keep tabs on where individuals are operating. It was enacted to protect consumers from unfair practices in poorly regulated corners of the business, such as work performed by unlicensed professionals and lenders/brokers jumping state borders undetected to continue their operations in another state if they were banned in one jurisdiction.

In accordance with the rule, a national bank must require its employees who are mortgage loan originators to comply with the new registry requirements. Loan officers must also obtain a unique identifier through the registry that will remain with that originator indefinitely.

Financial institutions will be prohibited from permitting their employees to act as mortgage loan originators unless registered with the SAFE database. ""The rule provides an exception to these requirements for originators who originate a de minimis number of residential mortgage loans,"" according to the OCC letter.

SAFE Act rules are already in effect for non-bank mortgage originators and brokers. Registration and licensing deadlines vary by state.

_Heather Hill Cernoch contributed to this report._

About Author: Carrie Bay

Carrie Bay is a freelance writer for DS News and its sister publication MReport. She served as online editor for DSNews.com from 2008 through 2011. Prior to joining DS News and the Five Star organization, she managed public relations, marketing, and media relations initiatives for several B2B companies in the financial services, technology, and telecommunications industries. She also wrote for retail and nonprofit organizations upon graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in journalism and English.
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