State and federal officials who recently completed a $25 billion settlement with five of the nation’s largest banks over shoddy foreclosure practices have begun discussing how to apply some of the terms of that deal to a wider array of financial firms.
The landmark agreement finalized in February in part forces the five major banks to overhaul flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices that had become common in recent years. Those changes include forbidding “robo-signing” of documents and providing a single point of contact to homeowners, who in the past often faced foreclosure from the banks even as they were negotiating ways to remain in their homes.
Officials have repeatedly said they hope to see similar reforms at other banks and financial firms, where many of the same questionable practices have persisted.
“We want to apply the servicing standards to other servicers,” said Patrick Madigan, an assistant Iowa attorney general who helped to negotiate the recent federal-state settlement. “Loan servicing has been a mess for the past four or five years. Reforming that industry is very important and very challenging.”
Madigan said homeowners are not the only ones who suffered from inaccurate and forged documents, poor customer service and avoidable foreclosures undertaken by servicers in recent years.
Large investors in mortgage-backed securities also have been hurt by the lackluster performance of servicers, he said, and the housing market and the economy also have suffered as a result.
“So, it’s important on a lot of levels that you get servicing fixed,” he said.
The settlement completed this winter — which also requires banks to reduce the loans of some borrowers, help others refinance their mortgages and pay restitution to some homeowners who faced foreclosure — was reached with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Ally Financial.
Madigan said officials began within the past week to strategize about which other firms to approach next and what shape negotiations will take.
There are complicating factors as officials move down the servicing food chain. Smaller servicers often are more regionalized and have varied business models. Some are national banks; others are state-chartered firms or thrift institutions. Some only service mortgages and hold no actual loans on their books.
The efforts to expand the number of firms subject to new servicing standards underscores how pervasive robo-signing and other foreclosure-related problems became in the wake of the housing bust, and how state and federal officials have taken numerous approaches to investigating and addressing those abuses.
Just last week, a senior Federal Reserve official told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that regulators are preparing to levy fines against eight financial firms over foreclosure practices involving flawed and fraudulent documents.
The companies facing those fines — SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Financial Services, EverBank, Goldman Sachs, OneWest, MetLife and HSBC’s U.S. bank division — were not part of the recent foreclosure settlement but were found by federal regulators to have undertaken a pattern of negligence and misconduct in the way they serviced mortgage loans.
Suzanne G. Killian, senior associate director of the Fed’s division of consumer and community affairs, told lawmakers that the agency plans to announce monetary penalties against the firms for “unsafe and unsound practices in their loan servicing and foreclosure processing.”
Those penalties hark back to a deal that federal regulators struck last year with 14 servicers after an investigation revealed widespread robo-signing and other abuses.
Under that agreement, the servicers agreed to hire independent consultants to evaluate whether borrowers suffered financial injury during the foreclosure process and to compensate them for any wrongdoing.
An estimated 4 million borrowers whose loans were in the process of foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, were eligible to request a free review of their cases at a Web site, www.
Through March 26, 128,000 borrowers had requested reviews, in addition to 138,000 selected for review by independent consultants, said a spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
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