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Foreclosure reviews of largest servicers begin

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Independent third-party reviews of foreclosure cases at the 14 largest mortgage servicers began Tuesday. The reviews are a requirement under consent orders signed between regulators and the servicers such as Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Citigroup (C). Consultants hired by the banks and approved by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will evaluate whether borrowers who were foreclosed on in 2009 or 2010 suffered financially due to improper practices. The servicers began mailing letters to eligible borrowers explaining how they can request a review of their case and receive a possible remediation. The borrower has until April 30, 2012 to request a review. There is no cost to the borrower, and the OCC warned against any firm that would charge a fee up front for the review. "The independent foreclosure review is a significant component of the mortgage servicers’ compliance with our enforcement actions," said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. "These requirements help ensure that the servicers provide appropriate compensation to borrowers who suffered financial harm as a result of improper practices identified in our enforcement actions." Walsh said in September that the reviews could cover more than 4.5 million cases and take more than a year to complete. For a list of servicers and how to request a review, the Financial Services Roundtable provided this fact sheet. The consent orders signed in April concluded one investigation into improper foreclosure practices that surfaced last year. Servicers were found to be foreclosing on borrowers during modification trials. Some firms were found to forging signatures on some processing documents, as well. The servicers began implementing new programs and oversight as part of the orders. "We will oversee the independent consultants to make certain they conduct the reviews in an independent and responsible manner," Walsh said. Bruce Krueger, lead mortgage expert at the OCC, said one-third of the eligible cases went through foreclosure sale in 2009 or 2010 with the rest still in limbo. Joe Evers, deputy comptroller for large banks at the OCC, said a remediation plan is still under development to determine how borrowers will be paid. He added that it could take months to figure out how to do that and it was difficult to estimate when a borrower would receive a check. "It will be a lengthy process," Evers said. The OCC said it would release the names of the independent consultants soon. The consent orders did leave room for a fine, but Evers said the fine will be determined after the reviews are completed. Paul Leonard, vice president of the Financial Services Roundtable and a spokesperson for the servicers participating in the review, said one letter will be sent to eligible borrowers, and an ad campaign will follow. A review administrator will send a confirmation one week after the borrower sends in a five-page request form. "As you can imagine this will take time, in many cases several months," Leonard said. Negotiations between the servicers and the remaining state attorneys general in the separate settlement talks are ongoing. The New York Times reported Monday a deal is nearing and so far includes principal reductions for some affected borrowers. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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