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Banks score incomplete grade in mortgage settlement case

Wednesday was report card day for the five largest banks that agreed to a $25 billion settlement with the 49 attorneys general, but they received mostly incomplete scores from the government-appointed monitor passing out the grades.

Joe Smith, the monitor, released a report on Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, CitiMortgage Inc., ResCap Partiers (formerly GMAC) and Wells Fargo. The banks were tested during two separate periods:  July 1-Sept. 30 and Oct 1. to Dec. 31. According to a report by Smith last month, the banks have reported distributing $50.6 billion in direct relief to more than 620,000 homeowners through the settlement.

Smith found that the banks failed eight servicing standards they agreed to in the settlement, mostly related to processing loan modifications, a sure sign that the banks aren’t providing enough staff to manage the cases.

The banks did pass the majority of the standards they were tested on, but they weren’t tested on all of the 29 areas outlined in the settlement because of delays in providing documents and agreed upon services. Bank of America was tested on only a dozen, Chase on only 11, CitiMortgage on 15, ResCap on 11, and Wells Fargo on 20.

The incomplete gaps led to some considerable holes in reporting. For instance, Bank of America has come under fire in Florida and other states for not providing timely documents or alerts during the foreclosure process. In a June 6 letter, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi slammed Bank of America and threatened to sue over the bank’s alleged failure to modify mortgages in an efficient manner.

Of the 17 categories Bank of America wasn’t tested on were two addressing this very issue.

Bank of America itself reported to Smith that it failed two tests: 1) Requiring that it consistently send borrowers accurate information before foreclosures begin, and 2) Failing to notify the borrower of missing documents in loan modification application process within the five days outlined in the settlement. The bank has begun working on proposed resolutions for these potential items, Smith noted in the report.

Chase disclosed that it potentially violated a requirement that it failed to meet a 15-day notification requirement to borrowers, but Smith said the bank has refunded premiums for over 2,000 borrowers because of the mistake. It also alerted Smith that it didn’t provide timely decisions on loan modification applications.

CitiMortgage reported to Smith that it wasn’t alerting borrowers of incomplete loan modification applications in a timely manner. Smith concluded this was a widespread problem and he’s reviewing solutions.

ResCap Parties, which was split up in a Feb. 5, 2013 bankruptcy court order and had their servicing rights transferred to Ocwen Financial Corp., Green Tree Servicing, and Berkshire Hathaway, had no failed tests (though again, it was tested on 11 of 29).

Wells Fargo reported it wasn’t alerting borrowers their loan modification agreements in a timely fashion, which Smith said he will update in his next report.

During a teleconference with reporters, Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said the report signifies that the banks have improved, but need to get better.

“The good news is that gains have been made,” Donovan said. “The practice of robo-signing - where banks sign off on foreclosures with little or no review - has come to an end. We’ve also confirmed that the five banks have stopped charging distressed borrowers a fee just to process a loan modification request.

“Unfortunately, other abuses shamefully endure,” he said. “Most notably, these financial institutions consistently fail to send notices and communicate decisions to shareholders in a timely manner. This is unacceptable.”

If it continues, Donovan warned, they will face fines of up to $5 million for each failure or they will be sued again.

Whether this will mollify some other criticis of banks, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is unclear. Schneiderman has threatened to sue Bank of America and Wells Fargo because he says they aren’t complying. California has reported widespread cases in which the banks aren’t complying.

Donovan has four other attorney generals, including Bondi, with him during Wednesday’s teleconference.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said litigation wasn’t the best answer.

“The ability for (Smith) to impose serious fines will help make the banks comply and make litigation unlikely,” Suthers told reporters. “Litigation is an inefficient way to resolve complaints.”

Bondi, who had earlier talked down litigation as a solution, didn’t rule it out. She said her office has four employees dedicated to answering complaints about the five banks in the lawsuit, which make up about 60 percent of the mortgages. (Donovan said it will be announced in the coming weeks what will be done to monitor the remaining 40 percent of loans).

“It’s clear that the banks still have a long way to go to live up to the commitments they made when they entered this settlement,” Bondi said in a release. “Ultimately, if the banks do not comply, we will not hesitate to take further legal action.”