Webster Bank Halts Foreclosures
Lest any readers doubt that the great mortgage bailout machine has begun spinning its wheels, the idea of foreclosure moratoriums has continued to catch banks in its net. The latest is Waterbury, Conn.-based Webster Bank, N.A., a subsidiary of Webster Financial Corporation (WBS), which on Thursday announced a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures for mortgages owned by the bank, and an expansion of mortgage assistance programs aimed at keeping families in their homes. The bank did not specify how many loans its moratorium would affect, so -- as has been the case with most voluntary moratoriums announced to date -- it's unclear how big of an effect the halt in foreclosures will have, or whether the moratorium is more of a PR ploy. Webster has $17.5 billion in assets, and manages 181 banking offices mostly in the New England region, so ostensibly the halt in foreclosures will affect a fair number of loans. The bank is the latest to roll out a moratorium and workout initiative, following the likes of Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup Inc. [[C]], JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), and both Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). Response to the programs has so far been mixed, with some suggesting that the plans don't go far enough, and others saying that halting foreclosures will do little to solve the problem and only drive up the cost of a bad loan. Under the program, Webster said it will temporarily suspend foreclosure activity for at least 90 days for all qualified homeowners who more than 30 days delinquent on their Webster residential mortgages as of Nov. 4, and work with those customers to structure more affordable payment plans so they can stay in their homes. Eligible borrowers must occupy the home as their principal residence, be working in good faith to stay current on their mortgage and provide evidence of sufficient income to support affordable mortgage payments -- conditions that will likely end up limiting how far-reaching the program really is, as we noted in recent commentary. Beyond the foreclosure moratorium, Webster said it will also expand its mortgage assistance program by identifying and contacting at-risk customers to see if they need help to remain current on their mortgages -- meaning the bank won't be waiting for borrowers to become delinquent. "Our goal, as always, is to identify and meet the financial needs of our customers. During this challenging economic time, we feel a heightened responsibility to assist those who are under financial pressure and are threatened with the possibility of losing their homes," said James C. Smith, Webster's chairman and CEO. "Just as my father did when he founded Webster Bank during the Great Depression, we will do everything in our power to keep people in their homes." Webster said it would look at forbearances, extending fixed payment periods on adjustable loans, extending the term on some mortgages or forgiving interest -- notably, however, no principal modifications. The bank also said it would work with investors on loans it services that it does not own to attempt a workout. Write to Paul Jackson at email@example.com. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.