Forty-nine states, every one but Oklahoma, as well as federal regulators will participate in a foreclosure fraud settlement that will release the five biggest banks (Wells Fargo, Citi, Ally/GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America) and their mortgage servicing units from liability for robo-signing and other forms of servicer abuse, in exchange for $25 billion in funding for legal aid, refinancing, short sales, restitution for wrongful foreclosures and principal reduction for underwater borrowers. The announcement will be made on Thursday.
The deal caps a 16-month process that had several fits and starts, and closed with the final holdouts, New York and California, coming to terms. The deal will release claims from state Attorneys General, but individual homeowners retain private rights of action to sue over foreclosure fraud and other abuses. As part of the settlement, states will get a fixed amount in hard dollars that would go to fund legal aid services. “This will get a lawyer for everyone facing foreclosure in the state,” said one source in an Attorney General’s office. “This will stop every wrongful foreclosure.”
Oklahoma stayed out of the deal because the state’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, did not believe that the banks should face any penalty.
As far as the release goes, AG offices that signed onto the lawsuit claimed it was narrowly crafted to only affected foreclosure fraud, robo-signing and servicing (which I don’t feel is all that narrow, but I’m trying to just-the-facts this -ed). The lawsuit that New York AG Eric Schneiderman filed last Friday, suing MERS and three banks for their use of MERS, was preserved fully. There was a last-minute request by the banks to dissolve that lawsuit, but it was not successful. In addition, Schneiderman reserves the right to sue other servicers for their use of MERS along the same lines as the current lawsuit.
In addition, all securitization claims, tax fraud claims, insurance fraud claims, and more will be able to be investigated and prosecuted by individual AGs and the RMBS working group, set up at the Financial Fraud Task Force, with Schneiderman as one of five co-chairs. They will be able to use all findings gathered in multiple investigations into servicing and foreclosures in their investigation.
[Then] there’s the settlement price: $25 billion, divided up several ways. $3 billion will go toward refinancing for current borrowers who are underwater on their loans, as well as short sales. $5 billion will go as a hard cash penalty to the states, which can use them for legal aid services, foreclosure mitigation programs, and ongoing fraud investigations in other areas (one official close to the talks feared that much of that hard cash payout will go in some Republican states toward filling their budget holes). The federal government will get a cash penalty as well. Out of that $5 billion, up to 750,000 borrowers wrongfully foreclosed upon will get a $1,800-$2,000 check if they sign up for it, the equivalent of saying to them “sorry we stole your home, here’s two months rent.”
The bulk of the money, around $17 billion, will go to principal reduction credits for troubled borrowers. The banks will not get dollar-for-dollar credit for every write-down; reductions on loans bundled in private-label mortgage-backed securities, for example, will be under 50 cents on the dollar, and write-downs for second liens (mostly home equity lines of credit) will be more like 10 cents. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan believes that they will be able to get between $35-$40 billion in principal reduction in real dollars out of the settlement.
[Now] the only hope for accountability and justice for the crimes of the financial crisis lie in some scattered lawsuits grandfathered in and Schneiderman’s RMBS working group. One thing is clear – the banks relieved themselves of a significant portion of liability at a price they believe they can easily handle.