November 29, 2021

Bank’s Deal Means More Will Lose Their Homes

For struggling borrowers in better financial shape, the outcome could be more positive: the deal would include incentives for mortgage servicers to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their payments and whose homes are worth less than they borrowed.

“The goal is to reinstate as many borrowers in a modification that performs well,” said Tony Meola, a servicing executive with Bank of America. “It also is likely to lead to faster resolution in those unfortunate situations where foreclosure is inevitable. While not a desirable outcome, the recovery of the housing markets depends on moving through the foreclosure process as quickly and fairly as possible.”

While powerful investors stand to benefit from the $8.5 billion settlement over the bank’s bundling of shoddy mortgages as securities, the fallout for the nearly 275,000 borrowers who took out those loans depends greatly on how deep they are in the foreclosure process and whether they earn enough money to dig themselves out.

While no exact income qualification has been set as part of the agreement, which was announced last month, many servicers use a formula in which borrowers can qualify for a modification as long as the new monthly payment does not exceed 31 percent of their monthly gross income. For borrowers who are unemployed or lack the income to cover even reduced mortgage payments, foreclosure and eviction could be much more immediate.

With 1.3 million borrowers at risk of foreclosure, Bank of America has been overwhelmed by the surge in defaults, and the accord has raised hopes that this logjam will finally begin to ease. But skeptics say that previous arrangements, like another multibillion-dollar settlement by Bank of America in 2008, have barely made a dent in the problem.

“The mortgage servicers have repeatedly promised to do things and then not done them,” said Michael S. Barr, a former assistant Treasury secretary who now teaches law at the University of Michigan. “I think it’s positive in general, but I don’t expect it to be transformative of what we’ve witnessed from the mortgage servicers over the last four years.”

Matthew Weidner, a Florida lawyer who represents borrowers facing foreclosure, said he was skeptical of promises by the deal’s architects that lower monthly payments would be easier to obtain.

“It’s like giving aspirin to someone with cancer,” he said of the proposed assistance. “You had all the big players at the top of the pyramid negotiating but nobody was speaking for the homeowners who have far more at stake at the ground level.”

Still, for some of the homeowners now facing foreclosure who took out loans with Countrywide, the subprime specialist bought by Bank of America in 2008, the deal could bring a few quick improvements.

Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America must now start transferring these borrowers to 10 smaller outside servicers, even without the deal being approved in court, which is not expected before November. The architects of the settlement say these subservicers will be far more efficient than Bank of America’s giant payment processing operation.

For example, an analysis of data by RBS prepared as part of the settlement found that Bank of America provided fewer modifications as a percentage of unpaid principal than JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Litton and other servicers. In addition, borrowers defaulted again within six months in nearly one in five cases when modifications were made by Bank of America, a higher rate than other servicers that were studied.

Officials at Bank of America contend the company has made nearly 875,000 modifications since 2008, more than any other servicer.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c45c956812fc875ad0f8da5d851e1635