The Deal Is Done, but Hold the Applause
FIVE big banks finally reached a deal with government authorities last week over dubious mortgage practices and foreclosure abuses.
After months of talks, Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo agreed to pay a total of $5 billion in cash to try to remedy this fiasco. They will also help homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages by reducing the principal on their loans by a combined $17 billion over the next three years.
Borrowers who qualify will get $3 billion in refinancing arrangements. Those who were improperly foreclosed on will get a combined $1.5 billion. That probably nets out to less than $2,000 a person.
The banks crowed that this settlement would help the economy and the reputation of the mortgage industry. Michael J. Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, characterized the deal as “a very important step toward restoring confidence in mortgage servicing and stability in the housing market.”
But it’s hard to imagine that this one settlement will be enough to restore trust in loan servicers. Given what we know about their questionable practices — how they larded improper fees on struggling homeowners, for example, and forced people to buy home insurance at three times market rates — restoring confidence in these firms will take some doing.
There’s no doubt that the banks are happy with this deal. You would be, too, if your bill for lying to courts and end-running the law came to less than $2,000 per loan file.
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