By Daniel Wagner, AP
WASHINGTON–Ten major banks agreed Monday to pay US$8.5 billion to settle federal complaints that they wrongfully foreclosed on homeowners who should have been allowed to stay in their homes.
The banks, which include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, will pay billions to homeowners to end a review process of foreclosure files that was required under a 2011 enforcement action. The review was ordered because banks mishandled people’s paperwork and skipped required steps in the foreclosure process.
The settlement was announced jointly by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve.
Separately, Bank of America agreed Monday to pay US$11.6 billion to government-backed mortgage financier Fannie Mae to settle claims related to mortgages that soured during the housing crash.
The agreements are the banks’ latest step toward eliminating hundreds of billions of dollars in potential liabilities related to the housing crisis that crested in 2008. When they release fourth-quarter earnings later this month, the banks hope to reassure investors that they are making progress toward addressing those so-called legacy claims.
But advocates say the foreclosure deal allows banks to escape responsibility for damages that might have cost them much more. Regulators are settling at too low a price and possibly at the expense of the consumer, they say.
“This was supposed to be about compensating homeowners for the harm they suffered,” said Diane Thompson, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. The payout guidelines already allowed wronged homeowners less compensation than the actual damages to them, she said.
Under the settlement, people who were wrongfully foreclosed on could receive from US$1,000 up to US$125,000. Failing to offer someone a loan modification would be considered a lighter offense; unfairly seizing and selling a person’s home would entitle that person to the biggest payment, according to guidelines released last summer by the OCC.
The agreement covers up to 3.8 million people who were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010. All will receive some amount of compensation. That’s an average of US$2,237 per homeowner, although the payouts are expected to vary widely.
About US$3.3 billion would be direct payments to borrowers, regulators said. Another US$5.2 billion would pay for other assistance including loan modifications.
The companies involved in the settlement also include: Citigroup, MetLife Bank, PNC Financial Services, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank and Aurora. The 2011 action also included GMAC Mortgage, HSBC Finance Corp. and EMC Mortgage Corp.
The deal “represents a significant change in direction” from the original, 2011 agreements, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said in a statement.
Banks and consumer advocates had complained that the loan-by-loan reviews required under the 2011 order were time consuming and costly without reaching many homeowners. Banks were paying large sums to consultants who were reviewing the files. Some questioned the independence of those consultants, who often ruled against homeowners.
Curry said the new deal meets the original objectives “by ensuring that consumers are the ones who will benefit, and that they will benefit more quickly and in a more direct manner.”
“It has become clear that carrying the process through to its conclusion would divert money away from the impacted homeowners and also needlessly delay the dispensation of compensation to affected borrowers,” Curry said.