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Federal mortgage servicer reviews target 4.5 million foreclosures

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The reviews federal regulators required of the 14 largest mortgage servicers to determine how many borrowers were harmed by faulty procedures will span nearly 4.5 million loan files, according to Acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. In the coming weeks, homeowners who faced a foreclosure will be able to request a review of their case if they believed they suffered financially as a result of a servicer's error. Direct mailings and an advertising campaign will target borrowers who received a foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010. In April, the 14 servicers, which include Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and others, signed consent orders with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, its now absorbed Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Reserve. The orders settled an investigation into faulty servicing practices including robo-signing, dual-track foreclosures and a shortage of qualified staff to work with delinquent borrowers. As part of their investigation, the regulators along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spent three months studying 2,800 loan files, roughly 200 per servicer, but required third parties to handle the look-back reviews of any pending or completed foreclosure in the allotted time. Walsh, during an American Banker symposium Monday, said the initial review was "not nearly enough to answer all questions." The consent order, signed by each member of the board of directors at the banks, required new oversight, a single point of contact for the borrowers, and the end of proceeding with a foreclosure while a modification is being considered. "All of the steps I've described thus far are aimed at ensuring the process works going forward — the 'fixing what’s broken' piece. But for homeowners who ended up in foreclosure, the critical issue is whether they were financially harmed due to servicer deficiencies, errors or misrepresentation and, if they were, what kind of restitution should be provided," Walsh said. He added these reviews are the "most ambitious and complex aspect" of the consent orders. Walsh admitted many borrowers have become jaded by the inefficiencies and confusion of the process. The files are currently being divided into targeted segments to identify which cases have the highest potential of financial injury. Walsh said regulators are setting up a system for individual third-party consultants to examine the cases for any injury caused by the errors. The servicers will be required to draft a remediation plan subject for approval by the OCC and the Fed. The reviews, he said, will take months. Because Walsh said the regulators are working with the Justice Department and the other state attorneys general to "harmonize" the requirements from their separate investigation, the full impact from the servicing issues may not be realized for some time. "While I wish that there was a faster way to address the problems, provide relief, and restore the smooth functioning of the housing market, the fact is that this process will take some time to complete," Walsh said. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior

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