In February, five of the nation's largest banks agreed on a $25 billion settlement over widespread, systemic mortgage fraud and related issues.
The $25 Billion Deal, announced with huge fanfare, was supposed to help up to a million struggling homeowners, primarily via debt forgiveness.
Let's flash forward a few months to see how debt forgiveness is working out in practice.
Today, the New York Times notes Banks Forgive Debt That Isn't There.
GREETINGS, unhappy homeowners! Here’s some wonderful news: “We are canceling the remaining amount you owe Chase!” says a letter that JPMorgan Chase sent recently to thousands of home loan borrowers. “You are approved for a full principal forgiveness of your Home Equity Account,” says another, from Bank of America.Wonderful News! But For Whom?
Jackie Esposito, of Guilford, Conn., got a letter like that. But she wasn’t elated — because she doesn’t owe the money anymore. She and her husband filed for bankruptcy three years ago. The roughly $64,000 they owed Chase has been legally wiped out.
Others have received similar letters about phantom debts. A borrower in Florida received word this month that Chase was erasing $190,065.10 of debt that had already been wiped out. Bank of America told a Virginia resident that a $231,767 home equity loan was being forgiven, even though the debt was discharged last May.
Are the banks’ forgiveness letters a way to gain credits for debts these institutions are improperly claiming to have extinguished? The banks say no.
But Chase appears to be claiming to release a lien on Ms. Esposito’s property that it does not hold. And under the mortgage settlement, it could receive a credit.
As for Ms. Esposito, she said she found the bogus loan forgiveness letter from Chase especially upsetting because of the years she has spent trying to have the bank modify her first mortgage. She pays 9 percent on her loan and cannot refinance it into a lower-rate mortgage, given her recent bankruptcy.
Chase won’t help her modify her loan, Ms. Esposito said, but it is happy to help by forgiving a loan that has already been discharged and releasing a lien that is already gone.
If these events are happening on a broad scale, and I suspect they are, that $25 billion settlement will end up costing peanuts.
Bear in mind, I have little sympathy for people who themselves purposely took out loans they knew they could never pay back, nor do I have sympathy for people who were willing partners in bank fraud.
Regardless, I wondered at the time how the banks would take a $25 billion hit without getting crushed. Well, now we know.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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