Banks to Unemployed: "Help Wanted"

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Banks are showing some signs of emerging from their job-freeze mindset, especially in the area of mortgage lending. While the home loan market is weak right now, banking analysts expect things to pick up in 2011 and 20102 — and they want a steady, capable workforce in place to meet that demand. The quickest path there is through a big uptick in loan specialist hires.

You wouldn’t think that would be the case, given the news that Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) was shedding 3,700 jobs, most of them in its home lending unit. Oh, and then there’s the fact that new-home sales were down by 30% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors.

But banks are keeping the porch light on in case buyers come back to the housing market. JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) is in the process of hiring 1,200 mortgage officers, mainly to replace the ones lost in the Washington Mutual merger. Look for Chase mortgage operations to pick up steam in several key cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., CNN Money reports.

Philadelphia-based Citizens Bank (Stock Quote: RBS) is also on a hiring binge after seeing mortgage lending rise by 167% in 2009, according to company statements. Another Pennsylvania bank, PNC (Stock Quote: PNC) purchased National City in 2008. But last autumn, PNC did some remodeling — expanding the former National City mortgage center in downtown Pittsburgh. It now boasts 320,000 square feet of office space and can now accommodate 1,000 employees.

Banks like PNC, Citizens Bank and JPMorgan Chase know that the mortgage business should, in spite of recent headlines, pick up again. The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that home loans should rise by more than $916 billion through 2010, up from an expected $725 billion this year.

The hiring boomlet is certainly good news to battered mortgage lending professionals, many of whom lost their jobs after the U.S. housing market tanked in 2008.

According to the MBA/STRATMOR Roundtable, a consortium of 55 lenders, the average loan officer compensation at midsize lenders was $86,300 in 2009, up from $56,700 in 2008. The average compensation at the largest lenders was $126,000 in 2009, compared to $73,400 in 2008. That’s manna from heaven for a mortgage broker who’s been out of work.

The bump in mortgage loan staffing should also be good news for the economy. While the enthusiasm for a big economic rebound among economists is tepid, as best, at least mortgage lenders are willing to put their money where there mouths — and their bottom lines — are right now.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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