Big banks finish paying $20 billion in mortgage settlement, report says

The nation’s largest banks have met their obligations to provide relief to struggling homeowners under the $25 billion national mortgage settlement, the landmark agreement to clean up shoddy foreclosure prac­tices.

On Tuesday, the court-appointed monitor of the settlement said Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial had all completed their requirements to offer various types of aid to borrowers, including allowing them to refinance or lowering the balance of their loan.

The mortgage serv­icers had to provide $20 billion in relief to borrowers with different types of aid assigned different credit toward that figure. While they ponied up a total of $50 billion to assist more than 600,000 families, only $20.7 billion of that money was counted under the settlement.

The remaining $5 billion of the mortgage settlement has already been paid out to states for housing counseling and to people who lost their homes, which means the monetary requirement of the agreement has been completed.

“This report finally allows for a pretty complete picture of what the settlement actually achieved,” said settlement monitor Joseph A. Smith Jr. “In this aspect at least — the consumer relief part — it achieved about what it set out to do.”

He praised the serv­icers for reducing the principal balance on primary mortgages in 37 percent of cases, in what amounted to $7.5 billion worth of assistance. An additional 17 percent of relief, or $3.5 billion, went toward refinancing the mortgages of struggling homeowners.

“Those are the most likely forms of relief to help keep people in their homes, which critics of the settlement and those who did the settlement wanted. I think that’s good news,” Smith said.

Mortgage servicers also let troubled borrowers sell their homes for less than they owed as well as turn over the deeds for the properties in lieu of foreclosure.

According to the report, Bank of America surpassed other mortgage serv­icers by providing a total of $27.3 billion in assistance to borrowers.

JPMorgan doled out $11 billion, Wells Fargo floated homeowners $7.9 billion, and Citigroup provided $3.4 billion. Ally, the fifth mortgage serv­icer named in the settlement that had long fulfilled its obligations, provided $554 million in total relief.

Relief payments account for only a portion of the settlement, which arose from allegations that lenders used forged and shoddy paperwork to quickly foreclose on struggling homeowners, a practice known as “robo-signing.” Smith will continue to monitor the ways in which the banks service mortgages and issue additional reports on their progress.

The settlement aimed to change the way lenders interact with borrowers by preventing banks from starting a foreclosure while simultaneously negotiating a modification, a practice known as “dual-tracking.” Banks also were supposed to give borrowers a single point of contact to make sure they weren’t being bounced around to different employees with each interaction.

These tenets were captured in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s recent mortgage serv­icing rules that took effect in January. Although housing advocates have hailed the efforts of the bureau and the settlement, some say the same poor serv­ice persists.

At least three of the 49 attorneys general involved in negotiating the mortgage deal have accused the banks of violating the serv­icing standards. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit in October against Wells Fargo accusing it of dragging its feet in processing requests from homeowners to have their loan payments lowered, a direct violation of the settlement. Wells Fargo denies the charges.

“We have made progress in the serv­icing standards, but I’m not prepared to say to you now and haven’t been prepared to say to anybody that we’re there yet,” Smith said.

The monitor added four tests late last year to measure how well the banks are complying. Banks that fail the tests could be dragged into court. In December, Smith faulted Bank of America, JPMorgan and Citigroup for mishandling homeowners’ requests for lower monthly loan payments through the first half of 2013. His next report in November will examine whether the banks corrected the problems that were identified.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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