Yesterday, Bank of America announced that they would settle their lawsuit with a parade of states Attorneys General that began before BofA bought out the defendant, Countrywide Financial. The initial suit alleged that Countrywide engaged “in deceptive advertising and unfair competition by pushing homeowners into mass-produced, risky loans for the sole purpose of reselling the mortgages on the secondary market.” At the time I thought it would be difficult to hold Countrywide responsible for what the mortgage market is intended to do, but I suppose they didn’t want to face a jury at a time when the financial industry is melting down.
This settlement, which could provide up to $8.68 billion dollars for as many as 400,000 homeowners nationwide (and up to $3.5 billion in California), has some very laudable parts to it:
Under the terms of the settlement, eligible subprime and pay-option mortgage borrowers with loans from Countrywide will be able to avoid foreclosure by obtaining modified and affordable loans. Here is the information released by Brown’s office:
The loans covered by the settlement are among the riskiest and highest defaulting loans at the center of America’s foreclosure crisis. Assuming every eligible borrower and investor participates, this loan modification program will provide up to $3.5 billion to California borrowers as follows:
• Suspension of foreclosures for eligible borrowers with subprime and pay-option adjustable rate loans pending determination of borrower ability to afford loan modifications;
• Loan modifications valued at up to $3.4 billion worth of reduced interest payments and, for certain borrowers, reduction of their principal balances;
• Waiver of late fees of up to $33.6 million;
• Waiver of prepayment penalties of up to $25.6 million for borrowers who receive modifications, pay off, or refinance their loans;
• $27.9 million in payments to borrowers who are 120 or more days delinquent or whose homes have already been foreclosed; and
• Approximately $25.2 million in additional payments to borrowers who, in the future, cannot afford monthly payments under the loan modification program and lose their homes to foreclosure.
This is exactly what should have been in the bailout bill – a large-scale workout for homeowners on the brink of foreclosure to modify their loans and stay in their homes. It’s arguably costlier to the bank at this point for the mortgages to go completely bust and to deal with the foreclosure. In addition, BofA is SUSPENDING subprime loans and negative amortization loans as well as loans with little or no documentation from the borrower, which is in a way more significant because that’s at the root of the financial crisis.
These are also the kind of steps that Ted Lieu sought in his AB 1830 which was vetoed by the Governor – banning predatory lending and unsustainable mortgage loans. Ultimately, Attorney General Brown was forced to seek remedy in the courts because the regulatory structure had broken down and the Congress was unable or, more likely, unwilling to give struggling homeowners a hand.
This shouldn’t be Jerry Brown’s job, but the systemic failure fell to him, and he performed brilliantly. And he’s not done:
And this is not the end of this chapter. The settlement does not include Angelo Mozilo, the former Chairman and Chief Executive of Countrywide Financial Corporation or David Sambol, formerly the President of Countrywide Home Loans and the President and Chief Operating Officer of Countrywide Financial Corporation. Brown will continue to prosecute separately his case against Mozilo and Sambol.
Lawmakers like Dianne Feinstein and others should be a little ashamed that they were able to do so little in the wake of this crisis while Jerry Brown did so much more.