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Government and Banks Play "Let’s Make a Mortgage Deal"

Written By:
January 24, 2012 at 8:38 PM

Regulators and government officials continue to slug it out with the big banks, trying to come to a resolution surrounding improper mortgage procedures that occurred last summer.

An astounding eight million U.S. homeowners have faced foreclosure since the market went bust and some lenders, in their haste to process foreclosures failed to verify information on the documents and even practiced “robo signing” where unauthorized employees signed documents.

Talks have dragged on for months with officials negotiating with five of the largest mortgage providers, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

Several deal scenarios have been designed, but under the latest proposal troubled U.S. homeowners could share approximately $20 billion to $25 billion. Under the current deal, roughly 750,000 who lost their homes would receive a check for approximately $1,800. Also, the proposed deal would not apply to loans backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Nearly one million homeowners still in their home but underwater, may have their mortgage reduced by $20,000 under the proposed plan. Currently, 11 million households are considered to be underwater, meaning that the borrower owes more on their home than what it is worth. According to Mark Zandi of Moodys Analytics the average underwater homeowner owes $45,000 to $50,000 more than their home is worth.

Broken down, the proposed deal would allot $17 billion toward reducing the principal mortgage balance for struggling homeowners; $5 billion would be put into a reserve account for state and federal programs--this is where the $1,800 would be drawn for abusive foreclosure practice restitution and $3 billion would be allocated toward helping homeowners refinance at 5.25%.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said that the government and banks are “very close” to reaching a deal.

"We're very close to a settlement that would both fix the servicing problems, but also help over a million families around the country stay in their homes and get help," he said. Sources say that part of the deal is that mortgage providers in states that agree to the plan will receive immunity from lawsuits.

States Say “Not So Fast” to Proposed Deal

While a deal may be near, left wing groups like Move On and the New Bottom Line are urging states to continue negotiating for a better deal such as a large-scale criminal investigation and a $300 billion settlement.

Democratic and Republican state attorney generals have been briefed on the notion and are mulling over the proposal.

Some activists and Democratic lawmakers are mainly concerned that the deal on the table would provide immunity to the banks, which would let them off easy.

North Carolina Democrat Rep. Brad Miller referred to the deal as a, "very bad deal for the American people and a sweet-heart deal for banks."

Martha Coakley, Massachusetts’ attorney general sued the five banks in December, for unlawful foreclosures. “Our pending lawsuit seeks real accountability from the banks and real relief for homeowners,” she said. “We will continue to pursue our lawsuit until we reach those goals, which includes solving the problem of creditors foreclosing illegally here in Massachusetts before they held a mortgage. We also need assurances that eligible Massachusetts borrowers will get relief and consistent treatment from the banks.’’

Like Coakley, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman wants the states to take a tougher line on banks. Schneiderman’s spokesperson eluded to an ongoing investigation, no matter what kind of plan is finalized. He said in a statement, “any settlement must not shut down ongoing investigations or release claims against the banks that must still be pursued.”

Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina is calling for a more thorough investigation of bank conduct and wondered if the settlement would send a harsh enough message.

“Will this settlement really hold the banks accountable, or will the settlement be a get out of jail free card?” he said. “Has there been an independent investigation of the banks’ foreclosure practices? Will the penalties really make banks think twice about violating the laws in the future? There are more questions than answers at this point.”

Deal finalization may rest on larger state’s shoulders, such as California. This summer, California attorney general, Kamala Harris joined Schneiderman’s objection to a plan that was too focused on robo-signing, which would release the banks from liability for a significant amount of misconduct.

Harris’ spokesperson said Monday, “Attorney General Harris has consistently and repeatedly expressed concern about protecting her ability to investigate wrongdoing in the mortgage arena, and that remains a key lens through which she will evaluate any proposals.”

President Obama is scheduled to discuss the plan during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.





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