The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday that it has launched investigations at banks and other financial firms after finding many problems in the way they service residential mortgages.
In the aftermath of the housing crash, the haphazard work of some mortgage servicers prevented thousands of struggling Americans from hanging on to their homes. Problems came to a head when regulators learned that banks were using forged and shoddy paperwork to rapidly foreclose on homeowners, a practice known as “robo-signing.”
Outrage over those practices led to multibillion-dollar settlements and a series of new rules aimed at changing the way servicers interact with borrowers. But a report released Wednesday by the CFPB shows that many companies have not cleaned up their acts.
Examiners at the bureau found that mortgage servicers, which collect loan payments and handle loan modifications and foreclosures, engage in sloppy payment processing that can result in extra fees for homeowners.
They also uncovered instances in which servicers failed to tell homeowners that their loans were transferred to another company or gave consumers conflicting information on the process for reworking the terms of their mortgage.
The CFPB also discovered that many non-bank servicing firms, which previously were not subject to state or federal examinations, lacked “robust” systems for compliance management. That means these firms have no formal procedures for addressing consumer complaints or ensuring quality control.
Bureau officials would not disclose the number of servicers it reviewed or their names, citing confidentiality rules, but said the report is based on examinations of a range of companies of various sizes across the country. Exams were conducted between November and June.
The bureau said examiners alerted servicers to their findings and offered remedial measures, such as making sure documents were filed appropriately. But in some instances, examiners referred cases for investigation, which could lead to enforcement actions, including fines.
Although the CFPB has not taken any action against mortgage servicers to date, the largest players in the industry have been subject to multibillion-dollar settlements with federal and state authorities.
The most prominent called for banks, including Wells Fargo and Citigroup, to pay $25 billion to compensate foreclosure victims and help to lower monthly loan payments for struggling borrowers. Millions of homeowners have been helped, but the court-
appointed monitor of the settlement said banks have dragged their feet in the process.
Indeed, the miscommunication, delays and botched paperwork the monitor unearthed mirror the findings of the consumer bureau and complaints of housing advocates.
“A lot of homeowners feel they are not getting the kind of response they need and deserve from their servicers to be able to stay in their homes,” said lawyer Norma P. Garcia, who manages Consumers Union’s Financial Services Program.
The mortgage-servicing industry is dominated by Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, which account for roughly 40 percent of the industry, according to an analysis by Inside Mortgage Finance. The trade paper pegs the outstanding mortgage-servicing debt about $9.8 trillion.
In the wake of the housing meltdown, many servicers did not have the infrastructure in place to comprehensively manage the volume of cases they faced, said Guy D. Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.
“Nobody was set up to have a 24-7 call center to really help borrowers,” he said. “When they were forced to do that, they hired temporary staff to meet the demand, and there were a lot of problems.”
At the start of the year, the CFPB issued new mortgage servicing standards to provide greater transparency for homeowners who want to know where their money is going and when they will be charged fees. The rules, which take effect in January 2014, call on servicers to provide homeowners with easy access to information about their loans, among other things.
“It will be much more instructive to look at performance against those standards after the implementation deadline and once servicers have had the opportunity to complete the massive amount of change management that the new standards require,” said David Stevens, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association.