What Is a Mortgage Electronic Registration System—MERS?

The Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) is a database created by the mortgage banking industry. A confidential electronic registry of mortgages originated in the United States, it keeps track of transfers of and modifications to servicing rights and ownership of the loans. It is used by the real estate finance industry for residential and commercial mortgage loan recording trading.

MERS, which also refers to the privately held company that manages the database, is approved by such government-sponsored enterprises as the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), and the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae), along wth such government agencies as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) that are involved in housing loans. The California and Utah Housing Finance Agencies and all major Wall Street rating agencies make use of it as well.

key takeaways

  • Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) is a privately owned database that the mortgage banking industry created to simply the registration and transfer of mortgages.
  • By tracking mortgage transfers electronically, MERS eliminates the need of a lender to register the transfer with the county recorder every time the loan is sold from one bank to another.
  • Sometimes MERS itself is designee as the mortgage lender (mortgagee).
  • While MERS can save time and recording costs, it has drawn criticism for making it difficult to see who actually is the current owner of a mortgage.

Understanding the Mortgage Electronic Registration System—MERS

Each time a mortgage is sold from one bank to another, an assignment—a document showing that the mortgage has been transferred—is, theoretically, prepared and recorded in the county land records. The assignment transfers all of the interest the original lender had under the mortgage to the new bank.

By tracking loan transfers electronically, MERS eliminates the long-standing practice that the lender must record an assignment with the county recorder every time the loan is sold from one bank to another.

The MERS system is used by mortgage originators, servicers, warehouse lenders, wholesale lenders, retail lenders, document custodians, settlement agents, title companies, insurers, investors, county recorders, and consumers. County and regulatory officials and homeowners can access MERS free of charge. Homeowners can look up information on their own mortgages that are registered with the system.

In order to use the electronic tracking, the servicer of the mortgage assigns it with a mortgage identification number (MIN) and then registers the loan with the MERS database. Sometimes, MERS itself is designated as the mortgagee, as the original lender is officially called in the mortgage documents; such a loan is known as an original mortgagee (MOM) loan. From there, the seller can originate the mortgage with MERS as a nominee of the lender (also referred to as the beneficiary), and then assign or record the assignment of the loan to MERS in the county land record. This would make MERS the mortgagee of record.

While MERS can act as mortgagee in county land records, it doesn't actually own the mortgage loan.

If the lender sells the loan, MERS will update its information regarding the mortgage. The servicer of a mortgage can have it removed from the MERS database by sending a request to have it deactivated. MERS will, in turn, notify Fannie Mae. If the servicer of a mortgage wants to end their membership with MERS entirely, it must also notify Fannie Mae as soon as possible.

Pros and Cons of the Mortgage Electronic Registration System—MERS

As an electronic, one-stop site for mortgage documents—deeds of trust
and promissory notes—MERS greatly simplifies the mortgage process. MERS can act as a cost-saving measure to some degree because, by acting
as a mortgagee, it cuts the expense of recording the transfer of a
mortgage from one lender to another. Having the loan in MERS’ name (as nominee) in the land records saves time and recording costs because multiple assignments aren't necessary each time the loan changes hands.

The database has drawn some criticism, though. During the 2008 housing crisis, the system made it difficult at times to sort out who actually owned mortgages. That created a challenge for homeowners facing foreclosure or relief from their loans, as they needed to know who held their mortgages in order to work out some form of remedy.