What Are Mortgage Servicing Rights (MSR)?

Mortgage servicing rights (MSR) refer to a contractual agreement in which the right to service an existing mortgage is sold by the original lender to another party that specializes in the various functions involved with servicing mortgages.

Key Takeaways

  • Mortgage servicing rights are sold by the originator of a mortgage to another financial institution, which then takes over the administration of the mortgage, which includes such tasks as collecting payments and forwarding them to the originator.
  • The original lender pays the servicer a fee for performing this work.
  • Nothing changes for the mortgagee except the address to which payments are sent.

Understanding Mortgage Servicing Rights (MSR)

MSRs have ongoing administrative duties that are regularly processed for the entire length of a mortgage. Common rights included are the right to collect mortgage payments monthly, set aside taxes and insurance premiums in escrow, and forward the interest and principal portions to the mortgage lender. In return the servicer is compensated with a specific fee, which is outlined in the contract that has been established and entered into at the beginning of the servicing agreement.

The mortgage payment amount, interest rate, type of loan, and other factors remain the same. As far as the borrower is concerned, only the address to which payments are sent is changed, and you should contact the servicer, rather than your original mortgage lender, with any questions you may have regarding your loan. Your servicer can change at any time, but you should receive notice from your original lender at least 15 days before it happens, and your new servicer should notify you within 15 days of assuming rights as well.

Federal banking laws let financial institutions sell mortgages or transfer servicing rights to other institutions without consumer consent.

Example of Selling an MSR

Sarah takes out a $500,000 mortgage from Lender A. She sends the lender a monthly payment of principal and interest. Three years later Lender A decides to transfer its MSR on Sarah’s mortgage to Company B. Under the terms of the contract, Company B is paid a fee by Lender A for processing all of Sarah’s remaining mortgage payments. The mortgage lender can then spend more time and money providing new mortgages while the company assuming the MSR forwards the mortgage payments to the lender.

Special Considerations

A lender will often sell MSRs as a means of freeing up lines of credit for lending money to additional borrowers. The majority of mortgages are in effect for 15 to 30 years, and the bank needs billions of dollars to lend money to other consumers requesting mortgages during this time. In a roundabout way, selling MSRs means that more people can become homeowners, because the sale of these rights produces revenue.

Lenders also make money by charging fees for originating mortgages and earning monthly interest from payments. Mortgages are simply additional assets that bring in more revenue for banks.

History of MSRs

The market for MSRs was strong in recent years due to an improving economy, higher quality mortgage originations, and fewer defaults. Hedge funds, banks, and real estate investment trusts (REITs) find these assets attractive because MSRs can yield high amounts of interest. For example, SunTrust purchased $8 billion in MSRs in the first quarter of 2016 as a means of earning a solid return on investment (ROI), and within months its MSR portfolio contained $121.3 billion in unpaid principal balances of loans that the bank was servicing for lenders.

National Mortgage News reported in June 2019 that MSRs “have been one of the best-performing fixed-income asset classes over the past five years.” However, it also says that “since October 2018, as medium- and long-term interest rates have fallen, projected and actual mortgage prepayment assumptions have accelerated, causing the expected average life of MSRs to shorten considerably.” This has resulted in the fact that “MSR values from April to May were down consistently (by a half) multiple.” That said, reports National Mortgage News, “the demand from MSR buyers is still very strong, and there is general consensus around MSR values.”