IN January, federal regulators announced an $8.5 billion agreement with 10 mortgage servicers to settle claims of foreclosure abuses, including bungled loan modifications and the wrongful evictions of borrowers who were either current on their payments or making reduced monthly payments.
Under the deal, announced by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the mortgage servicers will pay $3.3 billion to borrowers who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 and an additional $5.2 billion to reduce the principal or the monthly payments of borrowers in danger of losing their homes.
Those numbers might look impressive, but the deal is far too modest to be a credible deterrent to reckless foreclosure practices.
Consider the last big mortgage settlement. Last February, the federal government and 49 state attorneys general reached a $25 billion deal with the countryís five largest mortgage servicers ó Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC). They promised to help save homeowners from unnecessary foreclosure.
A year later, itís clear that the settlement hasnít worked as planned. Banks have dragged their feet in modifying first mortgages, much less agreeing to forgive part of the principal on homes that are underwater. In fact, the deal contained a few flaws. It has allowed banks to push homeowners into short sales, an alternative to foreclosure whereby the distressed homeowner sells the property for less than the debt that is owed. Not all short sales are bad ó some homeowners are happy to walk away with the debt cleared ó but as a matter of social policy, the program has failed to keep people in their homes.