Two weeks ago, Kensington homeownerJerry Jewell tried to square his account with his mortgage lender with a certified check for two missed mortgage payments and late fees.
But officials of the Maryland Federal Savings and Loan Association refused to accept the check and announced that they planned to continue foreclosure proceedings. The action would put Jewell; his wife, Edna, and their three children out of their house four days after Christmas.
Jewell, owner of a vacuum cleaner business in Langley Park, bitterly contends that Maryland Federal wants to foreclose because his mortgage carries an interest rate of 8 3/4 percent -- about half of the rate charged today -- and it would be in the S&Ls best interests to get out of the unprofitable loan. Maryland Federal officials deny that this is the reason and say that Jewell simply did not live up to his contract terms.
A spokesman for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates S&Ls, said there are no federal regulations governing foreclosures and that the terms of the individual contract generally dictate what kind of action the lender can take.
But the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that foreclosure rates are staying low nationwide -- even though delinquencies are rising rapidly -- because of voluntary forbearance on the part of lenders. The MBA found that between the second and third quarters of 1981, delinquencies in the District rose from 6.05 percent to 7 1/2 percent; the delinquency figures for Virginia and Maryland are lower but also on the rise.
Other area lenders apparently are not taking as hard a line on their delinquent customers as Maryland Federal, but the institutions clearly could get stricter if they chose to. The last time delinquencies were on the rise, in 1972 and 1973, mortgage lenders were tougher on foreclosures than they are now, MBA officials said.
Whether lenders will return to a more stringent policy if defaults continue to rise is unclear, though now most say they will go a long way to keep houses off their hands, particularly in today's depressed market. The action of Maryland Federal could serve as a warning, at least, for those who believe that tolerance on the part of their lender is mandatory.
"They treated me so badly and so abruptly. It's a cold business," Jewell said in an interview at his company, the Budwell Corp. "I've talked with other people who are behind more than I am, and it scares the heck out of them to think this can happen after only two [delinquent] payments."
Maryland Federal officials describe their action as legal and reasonable, and they contend that other lenders have made a mistake by being too lenient.
"A reasonable collection policy is better than a very liberal collection policy," said Maryland Federal President Robert Smith in an interview about Jewell's situation. "People are being lulled into the idea that they don't have to keep up with their obligations."
"We have visited places where they have brand-new cars, brand-new TV sets, and a trailer in the driveway. They say, 'I can't keep up on all those things, and you don't make me pay,' " Smith added.
"People's priorities have to be readjusted in today's economy. Rather than paying on that new car, they should pay to protect their shelter. Your biggest investment is in your home."
Edna Jewell says, however, that in their case the family has made no major purchases in some time and that the cars they own are several years old.
She expains their problems another way: "It's just living," she said. "Credit cards get ahead of you, and you end up robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Jerry and Edna Jewell also say the S&L gave them little warning that they were in danger of losing their five-bedroom, split-level home in Kensington.
The house, the Jewells' first, originally sold for $63,000 in 1976. Now it probably would sell for between $100,000 and $130,000, Jewell and Smith estimate. If the house is auctioned, the bank would receive the balance of the mortgage owed it, and the Jewells would get the rest of the profit minus legal fees and court costs.
Jerry Jewell first fell behind on his payments in September and then again in October. "I was neglectful," he acknowledged, adding that part of the reason he defaulted was because he was preoccupied with a number of illnesses in his family that came all at once, including the hospitalization of an elderly aunt and medical treatments needed for his mother, father and wife.
He admits that he did not meet a new repayment schedule worked out with the S&L in October under which he was to make up all past-due payments in November. When he then presented a certified check for the total on Dec. 3, the S&L said it was too late.
That day Maryland Federal Vice President David Baker wrote the S&L's attorney that the only way the foreclosure sale would be called off would be if Jewell paid the entire loan balance outstanding plus lawyers' fees and expenses before Dec. 29, the date set for the auction of the Jewells' home.
The reasons for the nonpayment do not appear to have been much of a factor in either the S&L's decision to allow the Jewells to make up the payments in November or in its insistence the next month on foreclosing. There is no record in the Jewells' files of any excuse given for the default, and Baker, the S&L official who processed the repayment schedule, said he does not remember one.
Smith said clearing the September and October debt in November was acceptable but that, when Jewell failed to meet that schedule, the lump-sum payment on Dec. 3 was rejected because Jewell is "not a customer we want to continue with."
Smith also said that Jewell previously had been late on his payments "several" times. The bank's records--reviewed by The Washington Post with Jewell's written permission--show that in the five years the Jewells have had the mortgage they were late 10 times, but never by much more than a few days. They paid late fees of $18.25 for checks received after the 16th of the month, the time at which the S&L considers the monthly payment delinquent.
"I'm human and have been late several times, but I don't have a bad account at all," Jewell argues. "I really paid my bills like John Q. Public. I was late sometimes but always paid."
He believes his 8 3/4 percent interest rate has more to do with the foreclosure proceedings than the late payments, and said that at one point one of the S&L's officers even told him that was the reason. The officer, Vice President Robert Halleck, denies he ever said that. "I merely told him he had a low-rate loan. I suggested that he refinance it with another lender but that it would cost him a lot at today's rates."
Jewell points out that the S&L could make an additional $40,000 profit over the life of a mortgage if it takes the $45,000 from the foreclosure and loans it out at 16 percent instead of the current rate of 8 3/4 percent. It could make a real difference on profits, he said, if the lender forecloses on enough of its low-interest loans, he added.
Smith counters that none of the S&L's low-interest mortgages can be foreclosed until the borrower defaults.
"We also have 4s and 5s and 6s and 7s, and we can't do anything about them. If we could foreclose on a mortgage to move the rates, it would be quite interesting. . . . If we could, the S&L industry wouldn't be in the condition it's in today," Smith said.
For his part, Jewell has hired a lawyer to file for an injunction against the foreclosure auction on his home and says he has spent $1,000 in legal costs so far. He has contacted various members of the media, and his friends and neighbors have started calling the S&L to protest. Smith reports that one woman said she planned to picket the S&L but that as of Tuesday she hadn't shown up yet.