More details about the February 9, $26 billion settlement between the government and five major mortgage servicers have emerged. Bank of America has agreed to reduce the mortgage principle by $100,000 or more for as many as 200,000 eligible homeowners.
When officials announced the settlement last month, they said about one million homeowners would receive an average principal reduction of $20,000 on their mortgages. Many critics of the settlement complain that the average payment would do little to help borrower saddled with outstanding mortgages, which were severely underwater. The new twist in the mortgage settlement helps qualified homeowners by providing a larger principal reduction, which should bring the loans on these homes in line with the current market value of the homes.
Only mortgages owned by Bank of America and certain mortgages serviced by the institution for other private lenders qualify for this aspect of the settlement.
The other four mortgage servicers, who were party to the agreement, Ally Financial, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase, plan to reduce the mortgage balances for their qualified borrowers to 115% to 125% the value of their homes.
Borrowers who have government-owned or insured mortgages, which include FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae, do not meet the criteria for this program because it only modifies private mortgage.
Paying for Countrywide Merger
When Bank of America merged with Countrywide Financial in 2008, it inherited the failed lender’s portfolio of over 9 million residential loans. Countrywide gained a reputation as the largest originator of sub prime loans and other high-risk mortgage products. Consequently, its portfolio contained a significant number of foreclosures and delinquent loans. In addition, a large percentage of the loans made by Countrywide consist of jumbo mortgages. A jumbo mortgage refers to a high-value loan, which exceeds the loans limits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or FHA programs.
The principal reduction increase will assist homeowners in regions of the country most affected by the foreclosure crisis, including California, Nevada, and Arizona. With such as dramatic decline in home values over the past four years, a significant number of Bank of America borrowers live in homes with values well below the outstanding mortgage balances.
The 200,000 borrowers deemed eligible for the principal reduction program could receive their mortgage modifications once the federal court signs off on the settlement agreement. HUD plans to hold another press conference once the court approves the settlement.
Financial Incentives to Keep Agreement
According to the agreement, if Bank of America demonstrates the ability to successful execute the requirements of the settlement, and follow-through on its separate agreement to reimburse the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) $1 billion, the bank can save itself $850 million in penalties. The $1 billion payment covers issues related to the origination of FHA loans. The lenders will administer the settlement over a three-year period and receive oversight from federal and state agencies.
In addition, Bank of America has promised not to initiate foreclosure proceedings against homeowners who are behind in their mortgage, but may qualify for a mortgage modification. The institution also promises to overhaul its foreclosure process and eliminate the environment that led to improper foreclosures on borrowers.
This recent announcement follows a chain of programs and administrative modifications schemes put forth by the Obama administration, which have designs to rescue struggling homeowners and help save their homes.
The announcements include the following changes:
- Reduced FHA fees charged for refinancing mortgages backed by FHA
- Reviews of foreclosure files for Armed Services members foreclosed on stating in 2006
- Mortgage modification for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages
- Federal agencies with home ownership programs must actively work with borrowers in danger of foreclosure
CoreLogic estimates that 11.1 million homes were worth less than the mortgage amounts owned by the borrowers, at the end of the last quarter in 2011. Ultimately, the measurement of success for the various programs intended to help borrowers—whether they have private mortgages or loans insured by the government, depends on how many homeowners with underwater mortgage actually receive the necessary help to right their situations.