FREDDIE MAC WARNS ABOUT SHORT SALE FRAUD PARTICIPATION

Attorneys & Realtors especially need to listen up to this…

For a perfect example of this, here is a story about the Short Sale Kid in Florida who has raised many questions.

What is a short payoff?

A short payoff occurs when a borrower cannot pay the mortgage on his or her property and is permitted to sell the property for less than the total amount due, at a loss to the lender, investor and/or insurer. All parties consent to the mortgage being paid “short,” primarily because the property does not need to go through foreclosure. Please note that many legitimate short payoffs take place in the real estate market.

What is short payoff fraud?

According to a member of Freddie Mac’s Fraud Investigation Unit, a slight variation of our general definition of mortgage fraud also defines short payoff fraud – “Any misrepresentation or deliberate omission of fact that would induce the lender, investor or insurer to agree to the terms of a short payoff that it would not approve had all facts been known.” Misrepresentations in these schemes may include the buyer of the short payoff property, a subsequent transaction at a higher price, and/or the selling borrower’s hardship reason used to qualify for the short payoff. In many instances, the short payoff fraud will involve a “facilitator,” engaged by either the listing agent or the selling borrower, to assist with negotiating the transaction.

How is short payoff fraud committed?

There are many variations of short payoff fraud. The example below is just one way this type of mortgage fraud can occur.

  • A seller (delinquent borrower) owes $100,000 on a property that is worth $80,000.
  • The short payoff facilitator negotiates with the bank to accept a $70,000 offer to purchase the property. In several instances, Freddie Mac has seen that this offer will be made directly by the facilitator or through an entity under his/her control.
  • The lender/investor accepts the offer for $70,000.
  • The facilitator neglects to disclose to the lender/investor that there is an outstanding offer between the facilitator and a second end-buyer for $95,000.
  • Both transactions close on the same day with the net difference being pocketed by the facilitator and increasing the lender/investor’s net losses.

At first glance, this may look like a legitimate short payoff. However, in this example, the fraud is the failure to disclose the second, higher offer. The facilitator is willfully withholding important information the same way a scam artist would, and the lender does not realize they are walking into a premeditated short payoff fraud scheme. Because the facilitator is deliberately withholding the higher offer, Freddie Mac also experiences a larger than necessary loss on this sale.

Short Payoff Fraud Prevention Red Flags

Remain alert to the following flags, which may suggest short payoff fraud:

  • Sudden borrower default, with no prior delinquency history, and the borrower cannot adequately explain the sudden default.
  • The borrower is current on all other obligations.
  • The borrower’s financial information indicates conflicting spending, saving, and credit patterns that do not fit a delinquency profile.
  • The buyer of the property is an entity.
  • The purchase contract has an option clause to resell the property.

Short Payoff Fraud Prevention

The following protective measures are recommended in order to detect and mitigate the severity of short payoff fraud:

  • Review all short payoff documentation carefully, including the sale contract. This helps determine if there is an option clause to resell the property at a higher price without notifying the lender.
  • Draft a short payoff arm’s-length affidavit/disclosure notice for all parties involved in the short payoff to help avoid any hidden contracts, or side agreements. The parties involved should be, but are not limited to: the buyer, seller, listing agent, selling agent, short payoff negotiator(s)/facilitator(s), and closing agent.
  • Solicit information from your borrower.
  • Inquire if the borrower is aware of any other parties involved with the short payoff other than real estate professionals.
  • Is there a short payoff negotiator/facilitator involved?
  • Is the borrower aware of any other purchase contracts on the property?
  • Require an executed and signed IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return,from each borrower and process the form to determine if the borrower’s qualifying income is accurate.
  • Order an interior Broker Price Opinion (BPO) and review all other BPOs that have been ordered on the property (drive-bys and full interiors) to establish a high/low value variance. The BPOs should include a past and present Multiple Listing Service (MLS) listing history, as this will determine if the property was relisted in MLS while the short payoff is being processed.
  • Review the Freddie Mac Exclusionary List to see if the parties to the short payoff are on the list. Seller/Servicers can access the Exclusionary List via the selling system, MIDANET®, MultiSuite®, and Loan Prospector®.
  • Immediately notify Freddie Mac if you are aware of a second purchase contract for a higher price.

Important Freddie Mac fraud prevention resources

Leverage the following resources for more information on dealing with fraud:

FINALLY!!! Supreme Court of Florida DENIES FORECLOSURE MILLS Ben-Ezra and Katz, P.A.’s Motion for Rehearing and Shapiro and Fishman, LLP’s Motion for Rehearing

via 4ClosureFraud

RE: Verification of Complaints

NO MORE EXCUSES

Supreme Court of Florida

THURSDAY, JUNE 3, 2010
CASE NOS.: SC09-1460 AND SC09-1579
IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE IN
RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE – FORM 1.996
(FINAL JUDGMENT OF FORECLOSURE)

In light of the revised opinion, Ben-Ezra and Katz, P.A.’s Motion for Rehearing and Shapiro and Fishman, LLP’s Motion for Rehearing or Clarification are hereby

DENIED

IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

REVISED

Debt collectors can come calling years after a mortgage default

If Bankruptcy is in the future this is a good reason why to wait to file Last Minute!

IT IS IMPORTANT TO LIST THE “REAL” CREDITOR/LENDER/INVESTORS!

The banks have plans… YOU should too!

PIN THEM DOWN!

By Jim Wasserman The Washington Post
Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homeowners defaulting on mortgages today may be surprised to learn years from now that they still owe thousands of dollars — and that a collection agency is coming after them to get it.

That’s because lenders have been quietly selling second mortgages and home-equity lines left unpaid after foreclosures and short sales. The buyers: collection agencies, which in some states have years to make a claim.

If they win court judgments, these collectors could have years to pursue borrowers with repayment plans, and even to garnish their wages, said Scott CoBen, a Sacramento bankruptcy attorney.

“The only relief a consumer will have is entering into a debt-negotiating plan or filing for bankruptcy,” said Sylvia Alayon, a vice president with the Consumer Mortgage Audit Center. The firm provides mortgage analysis to lenders, advocacy groups and attorneys.

The phenomenon suggests an ominous, looming echo of the recent real estate collapse. As debt collectors seek at least partial repayment of millions of dollars in unpaid home loans, some say renewed financial stresses on tens of thousands of consumers could dampen economic recovery.

“I think there will be a lot of unhappy people when it hits,” said CoBen. “We saw this in the ’90s. This is not really new. Just when you think you’re back on your feet, you’re making money and the economy’s good, they hit you with this.”

Alayon said most people are so stressed out and exhausted by trying to save their homes now that they are unaware they could face another hit later. And many who are losing homes don’t get the advice necessary to prevent future fallout, say loan counselors at nonprofit organizations.

“You’ve got tens of thousands of people in California who have this hanging over their heads who don’t even know it,” said Scott Thompson, principal at for-profit Mortgage Resolution Services in California. He fears a new wave of bankruptcies might affect people just starting to recover from losing their homes.

“So many of these are people with 750 or 800 credit scores who made a bad decision,” said Thompson. “Or they’re people who suffered income cuts. These are people, in terms of the economy, whom we need to participate.” But an entire industry is gearing up to buy their debt at deep discounts and collect what it can, Alayon said.

“It’s a big business, and investors are coming out of the woodwork. It’s a very lucrative business,” she said. Real estate insiders and financial players know it as “scratch and dent.” One of the biggest players in the business, Texas-based Real Time Resolutions, did not respond to an inquiry on the subject from McClatchy Newspapers. Neither did Bank of America, which holds many defaulted loans made by its Countrywide affiliate during the real estate boom.

Banks made many “second-lien” loans, including those used to finance 20 percent down payments during the housing boom. A separate category of “seconds” includes home-equity loans and home-equity lines of credit. Nationally, about 3.4 percent of those loans are currently delinquent, according to Foresight.

Owners are generally, but not always, on the hook for the second loans left over from a foreclosure or short sale. Most investor mortgages, too, leave the borrower liable for potential unpaid debt.

In many short sales, experienced real estate agents or attorneys can negotiate away debt obligations for the second-lien loan. But many inexperienced borrowers don’t know that, and they sign final-hour agreements giving lenders the right to pursue them later.

“Seek advice,” counseled Doug Robinson, spokesman for national nonprofit mortgage counselor NeighborWorks America. He said nonprofit counselors can help.

“Often when you work with a real estate agent, they’re not really equipped to handle the repercussions. They’re set up to make the sale,” he said.

A new Obama administration short-sale program aims to prevent banks that hold second-lien loans from pursuing collections from homeowners after the short sale. It goes into effect April 5 and works this way: Sellers will receive notice that their servicer has steered part of the sales proceeds to secondary lien holders “in exchange for release and full satisfaction of their liens.” But this release would apply only to short sales done for people through the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program.

DEPOSITION of A “REAL” VICE PRESIDENT of MERS WILLIAM “BILL” HULTMAN

From: b.daviesmd6605

Bill joined MERS in February, 1998. He brings more than 14 years of broad experience in finance and treasury. Before joining MERS, he served as Director of Asset Liability Management for Barnett Banks, Inc., Asset Liability Manager at Marine Midland Bank and Treasurer of Empire of America FSB. As a conservator for the FDIC, he managed insolvent institutions for the Resolution Trust Corporation.
Prior to his experience in the financial services industry, Bill was a partner in the law firm of Moot and Sprague, as well as an attorney at Forest Oil Corporation, specializing in the areas of securities and corporate law.

Bank of America RECORDED CALL regarding FORECLOSURE FRAUD *MUST LISTEN*

I think this is what WE all go through!

jwerner79 — April 25, 2009 — This call happened 4/24/09 whereas a Countrywide representative called me, Jason Werner, literally while I was driving home from a pre-mediation conference. The loan amount is less than $50,000. This is a good example of a crime trying to be covered by the Treasury. Please see my comments to follow. Thank you.

No Penalties for Mortgage Company with Worst Loan Mod Backlog

by Paul Kiel, ProPublica – May 28, 2010 1:53 pm EDT

Jeanenne Longacre said she received a letter from Saxon Mortgage saying she was approved for a loan mod, but the final terms never came. She says she lost her home because of Saxon's errors.
Jeanenne Longacre said she received a letter from Saxon Mortgage saying she was approved for a loan mod, but the final terms never came. She says she lost her home because of Saxon’s errors.

Last week, the government released data [1] showing that there’s a big problem at Saxon Mortgage, a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley. Of all the mortgage companies participating in the administration’s mortgage modification program, Saxon has the largest proportion of homeowners caught in modification limbo.

The program, which provides incentives for mortgage companies to modify loans to an affordable level, has been plagued by delays and disappointing results. About 1.2 million homeowners have begun a “trial” modification, which is supposed to last three months. But less than a quarter of them have emerged with a real, lasting modification. (Here’s our backgrounder on the program and problems with it [2].)

As of April, about 265,000 homeowners [3] were caught in trials that had lasted more than six months. Nowhere is that backlog worse than at Saxon, a mid-sized subprime servicer based in Texas that was acquired [4] by Morgan Stanley in 2006 and has had long-running customer service problems [5].

Few of Saxon’s trials have converted into lasting modifications. As of the end of April, Saxon had put 40,000 homeowners into trials, but only about 11,000, or 27 percent, had received a permanent modification. Far more had either been dropped from the program (16,000) or were still waiting for a final answer after being in the trial for longer than six months (10,000).

The Four Mortgage Servicers with The Biggest Trial Backlogs

Servicers Est. # “Aged” Trials % of Active Trials that are “Aged”
Saxon Mortgage Services 9,839 76%
JPMorgan Chase 85,678 72%
U.S. Bank 2,064 58%
CitiMortgage 26,375 48%
Total for Program 265,015 42%

A close look at Saxon provides a window into problems with the program itself, in particular a glaring lack of oversight from Washington. While the government set up the program, it relies on mortgage companies to actually perform modifications. So far Washington has shied away from penalizing those servicers that have failed to follow the program’s rules or underperformed. Indeed, despite widespread problems [3] among mortgage servicers and frequent tough talk [6] from Treasury officials, who have often threatened penalties, the government has yet to issue a single one.

A spokeswoman for Saxon said that the company has been regularly audited, as have other participants in the government’s program, and that the reviews had uncovered no “material issues.”

For homeowners, on the other hand, the consequences of servicer problems can be all-too-real. Some homeowners say they lost their home because of errors by Saxon.

The country’s largest mortgage servicers are attached to the biggest banks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, but a number of mid-sized servicers like Saxon are stand-alone companies or subsidiaries of other banks. As of 2008, Saxon serviced over 340,000 loans.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Saxon Mortgage Services requests that consumers with a complaint contact Robin Chrostowski, Assistant Vice President of the Customer Solutions and Innovation Team, at 817-665-7862 or email CSIteam@saxonmsi.com to resolve the issues prior to filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

 

The company already had problems before the administration launched its mortgage modification program in April 2009. As the Wall Street Journal reported last July [7], Saxon ranked last among 20 servicers in a Credit Suisse analysis of how many subprime loans each had modified. The Better Business Bureau had given the company an “F” [5] rating, based on a profusion of consumer complaints.

But the company was among the first to sign up for the government program when it launched in April, 2009. In the first few months, Saxon put tens of thousands of homeowners into trial modifications. In a November press release, Saxon CEO Anthony Meola boasted [8] that Saxon was leading all other servicers in the number of trials it had begun.

The Treasury Department had set the rules of the program [9] to encourage servicers to rapidly enroll homeowners. Servicers were allowed to accept homeowners on the basis of their “stated” income, what a Treasury official described [9] as “a wing and a prayer.” The financial information would be verified later, after the trial began. While well-intentioned, the policy resulted in an enormous backlog of trials—homeowners who had been given temporary modifications and were waiting months for a final answer — and Treasury changed the program rules this spring to require verified income information up front.

Consumer advocates say that homeowners who are denied modification after making several months of trial payments are often worse off than if they’d never started the trial at all [9], because the process damages their credit and they’re prevented from saving for the possibility of foreclosure.

At Saxon, many homeowners seem to be caught in that limbo because of mistakes and delays at the company. John Riggins, the CEO of the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau, said that the biggest complaints about Saxon are that the company has misapplied payments or lost documents sent as part of the modification process. Saxon employees often blame computer problems or a lack of staffing, according to the complaints, which number 208 in the past year.

Jennifer Sala, a spokeswoman for Saxon, said the backlog was not caused by a lack of capacity, but resulted from a “careful review process” that “can take a considerable amount of time.” She added, “We want to afford our customers every opportunity to avoid foreclosure.”

Saxon has hired about 330 new full-time employees in the past year, she said, increasing the staff by 50 percent. Riggins of the Better Business Bureau said that the complaint volume had improved since last year, but that major problems remained. Saxon has improved only from an “F” to a “D-.” rating [10].

There are other signs Saxon has been struggling to handle the volume. In April, it transferred the servicing rights [11] for about 38,000 loans to Ocwen, which specializes in servicing troubled loans. “Normally the reason for selling loans to Ocwen is you don’t want to hassle with them anymore and they’re delinquent,” said Guy Cecala, the publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. Some of the loans transferred were in the middle of the modification process.

Sometimes the communications from Saxon can be bewildering. Barbara Niederstein of Fayetteville, Ga., said she has twice received letters saying she was being dropped from the program. Both letters cited missing documentation as a reason, but she says she was never told it was missing. Saxon has threatened to pursue foreclosure. Niederstein says that hours spent on the phone with a housing counselor and Saxon employees has at least postponed that for a month, even if the confusion has yet to be cleared up.

 Jeanenne Longacre and her husband Robert.

Jeanenne Longacre and her husband Robert.

Jeanenne Longacre says she lost her home because of Saxon’s errors. She says Saxon wrongly set the trial payments at a level Longacre and her husband could only muster for a few months, and then booted her from the program when she couldn’t keep up the payments. Her house was ultimately sold out from under her after she says she received an assurance the sale would be delayed.

For months, her husband had been struggling to find steady employment when Longacre lost her job with California Blue Cross in February 2009. They were behind on their mortgage payments and faced foreclosure.

The pair, in their 50s with grown children, had been in the house for 10 years, but had refinanced in 2006 into an adjustable-rate loan with New Century, the now-defunct subprime lender. The Longacres were underwater on their mortgage, with their Los Angeles home worth about half as much as they owed.

Longacre says Saxon’s first error with her modification came with the level of the couple’s payments. The modified mortgage payment was set at $3,400, about $1,400 lower than the couple’s payments had been, but at a level they could maintain only with the help of temporary severance she was receiving. That severance would run out in August, just two months after her trial began in June.

Sala, the spokeswoman for Saxon, said she could not discuss Longacre’s case because company policy prohibited discussing customer information.

Trials are supposed to test the homeowner’s ability to make the reduced payments for a prolonged period of time. But Longacre says she always knew they would be able to make the payments only for a few months. By the time August, September came around, we started struggling,” she said. “It’s ridiculous paying that kind of money when you don’t have it.”

Still, Longacre kept paying. After August, the third month of the trial, came and went with no news, Longacre began calling Saxon regularly to find out what was happening. For months, she says she couldn’t get an answer. She was occasionally asked to send in a new document, but then the wait would continue.

Finally, she spoke to a negotiator in January this year, the eighth month of her trial. He told her she’d be approved for a permanent modification and that the payment, based on her family’s verified income, would be much lower, just $1,300 a month.

“I was so excited,” Longacre said. “I thought a miracle had happened.”

But her excitement was short-lived. She received a letter from Saxon in early February [12] saying she’d been approved for the modification, but the final terms never came. When she called to ask about that, she says she was told she had to make the trial payments for January and February or she’d face foreclosure.

The couple had missed those payments because their money had finally run out, she says. But even though Saxon had set their permanent modification at a level far below her trial payments, she was dropped from the program for not making all of her trial payments.

In March, she received a notice that Saxon would auction her home on April 1. She hired a lawyer to negotiate on her behalf, and it seemed like foreclosure had been temporarily avoided when a Saxon employee said the sale would be postponed until May in order to provide more time to work out another solution.

Longacre thought the auction had been deferred until a man knocked on her door in early April, saying that he represented the new owners of her home and was offering her money to vacate. The home had sold for $302,000, less than half of what the Longacres owed on the mortgage.

“That home was the only thing we had. I put it everything that I own into that home.” She currently lives in an apartment with her husband.

As we reported earlier this month, mistaken foreclosures can result from a lack of communication within the servicer itself [13]. In Longacre’s case, she says she was not provided a denial letter or given an opportunity to otherwise avoid foreclosure, as the federal program’s guidelines require.

Consumers advocates say the program does not offer an effective recourse for homeowners to redress servicer wrongs. Treasury officials say [13] that homeowners in Longacre’s position should call the HOPE Hotline, which is staffed with housing counselors, for help. Advocates say that’s been ineffective, and have long complained [14] about the lack of a formal appeals process for homeowners.

Longacre’s case also reflects on a problem faced by the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who’ve been caught in prolonged trials: whether they must keep paying after the three-month period expires, and whether mortgage companies can deny modifications if homeowners miss payments while they’re in limbo.

The Treasury Department has given conflicting answers for that question.

The program’s guidelines say [15] that borrowers remain eligible for a permanent modification “regardless of whether the borrower failed to make trial period payments following the successful completion of the trial period.”

Despite that apparently clear meaning, a Treasury spokeswoman told ProPublica homeowners were required to continue the payments “even if the period was extended to allow additional processing.”

Cohen, of the National Consumer Law Center, said that’s not how consumer advocates have understood the program’s rules. “The program rules are clear: a homeowner is required to make trial payments only until the effective date of the permanent modification, which is three months after the beginning of the trial period.”

Four other Saxon customers told ProPublica that they’d been disqualified for missing the extended trial payments. Sala, Saxon’s spokeswoman, said the company follows the program’s guidelines. It’s unclear if there will be any consequences for Saxon for any errors or rule violations. The Treasury has hired [16] Freddie Mac [17] to audit the servicers participating in the program, and so far, as Saxon’s spokeswoman has said, auditors have not flagged any “material issues” at the company. The Treasury spokeswoman said some information from the compliance reviews will eventually be made public, but none was available now.

 Write to Paul Kiel at paul.kiel@propublica.org

SEC KNEW ABOUT SUBPRIME ACCOUNTING FRAUD A DECADE AGO

by Elizabeth MacDonald FoxBusiness

The Securities and Exchange  Commission is missing a bigger fraud while it chases the banks. Even though it knew about this massive, plain old fashioned accounting fraud back in 1998.
Instead, the market cops are probing simpler disclosure cases that could charge bank and Wall Street with not telling investors about their conflicts of interest in selling securities they knew were damaged while making bets against those same securities behind the scenes, via credit default swaps.
Those probes have gotten headlines, but there aren’t too many signs that this will lead to anything close to massive settlements or fines.

For instance, the SEC doesn’t appear to be investigating how banks frontloaded their profits via channel stuffing — securitizing loans and shoving paper securitizations onto investors, while booking those revenues immediately, even though the mortgage payments underlying those paper daisy chains were coming in the door years, even decades, later. Those moves helped lead to $2.4 trillion in writedowns worldwide.
The agency said it  believed banks were committing subprime securitization accounting frauds back in 1998 and claimed to be ‘probing’ them.
I had written about these SEC probes into potential frauds while covering corporate accounting abuses at The Wall Street Journal. The rules essentially let banks frontload into their revenue the sale of subprime mortgages or other loans that they then packaged and sold off as securities, even though the payments on those underlying loans were coming in the door over the next seven, 10, 20, or 30 years.
Estimating those revenues based on the value of future mortgage payments involved plenty of guesswork.

Securitization: Free Market Became a Free For All
The total amount of overall mortgage-backed securities generated by Wall Street virtually tripled between 1996 and 2007, to $7.3 trillion. Subprime mortgage securitizations increased from 54% in 2001, to 75% in 2006. Back in 1998, the SEC had warned a dozen top accounting firms that they must do a  better job policing how subprime lenders book profits from loans that are repackaged as securities and sold on the secondary market. The SEC “is becoming increasingly concerned” over the way lenders use what are called “gain on sale” accounting rules when they securitize these loans, Jane B. Adams, the SEC’s deputy chief accountant, said in a letter sent to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the nation’s chief accounting rule makers.
At that time, subprime lenders had come under fire from consumer groups and Congress, who said banks were using aggressive accounting to frontload profits from securitizing subprime loans. Subprime auto lender Mercury Finance collapsed after a spectacular accounting fraud and shareholder suits, New Century Financial was tanking as well for the same reason.

SEC Knew About Subprime Fraud More than a Decade Ago
The SEC more than a decade ago believed that subprime lenders were abusing the accounting rules.
When lenders repackage consumer loans as asset-backed securities, they must book the fair value of profits or losses from the deals. But regulators said lenders were overvaluing the loan assets they kept on their books in order to inflate current profits. Others delayed booking assets in order to increase future earnings. Lenders were also using poor default and prepayment rate assumptions to overestimate the fair value of their securitizations.
Counting future revenue was perfectly legal under too lax rules.
But without it many lenders that are in an objective sense doing quite well would look as if they were headed for bankruptcy.
At that time, the SEC’s eyebrows were raised when Dan Phillips, chief executive officer of FirstPlus Financial Group, a Dallas subprime home equity lenders, had said the poor accounting actually levitated profits at lenders.
“The reality is that companies like us wouldn’t be here without gain on sale,” he said, adding, “a lot of people abuse it.”
But this much larger accounting trick, one that has exacerbated the ties that blind between company and auditor, is more difficult to nail down because it involves wading through a lot of math, a calculus that Wall Street stretched it until it snapped.

Impenetrably Absurd Accounting
These were the most idiotic accounting rules known to man, rules manufactured by a quiescent Financial Accounting Standards Board [FASB] that let bank executives make up profits out of thin air.
It resulted in a folie à deux between Wall Street and complicit accounting firms that swallowed whole guesstimates pulled out of the atmosphere.
Their accounting gamesmanship set alight the most massive off-balance sheet bubble of all, a rule that helped tear the stock market off its moorings.
The rules helped five Wall Street firms – Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch – earn an estimated $312 billion based on fictitious profits during the bubble years.

Who Used the Rule?
Banks and investment firms including Citigroup, Bank of America and Merrill all used this “legit” rule.
Countrywide Financial made widespread use of this accounting chicanery (see below). So did Washington Mutual. So did IndyMac Bancorp. So did FirstPlus Financial Group, and as noted Mercury Finance Co. and New Century Financial Corp.
Brought to the cliff’s edge, these banks were either bailed out, taken over or went through bankruptcies.
Many banks sold those securitized loans to Enron-style off-balance sheet trusts, otherwise called “structured investment vehicles” (SIVs), again booking profits immediately (Citigroup invented the SIV in 1988).
So, presto-change-o, banks got to dump loans off their books, making their leverage ratios look a whole lot nicer, so in turn they could borrow more.
At the same time, the banks got to record immediate profits, even though those no-income, no-doc loans supporting those paper securities and paper gains were bellyflopping right and left.
The writedowns were then buried in obscure line items called “impairment charges,” and were then masked by new profits from issuing new loans or by refinancings.

Rulemakers Fight Back
The FASB has been fighting to restrict this and other types of accounting games, but the banks have been battling back with an army of lobbyists.
The FASB, which sets the rules for publicly traded companies, is still trying to hang tough and is trying to force all sorts of off-balance sheet borrowings back onto bank balance sheets.
But these “gain on sale” rules, along with the “fair value” or what are called “marked to market” rules, have either been watered down or have enough loopholes in them, escape hatches that were written into the rules by the accountants themselves, so that auditors can make a clean get away.
As the market turned down, banks got the FASB to back down on mark-to-market accounting, which had forced them to more immediately value these assets and take quarterly profit hits if those assets soured – even though they were booking immediate profits from this “gain on sale” rule on the way up.
Also, the FASB has clung fast to the Puritanism of their rulemaking by arguing a sale is a sale is a sale, so companies can immediately book the entire value of a sale of a loan turned into a bond, even though the cash from the underlying mortgage has yet to come in the door.

Old-Fashioned ‘Channel Stuffing’
This sanctioned “gain on sale” accounting is really old-fashioned “channel stuffing.”
The move lets companies pad their revenue and profit numbers by stuffing lots of goods and inventory (mortgages and subprime securities) into the system without actually getting the money in the door, and booking those channel-stuffed goods as actual sales in order to cook ever higher their earnings.
Sort of like what Sunbeam did with its barbecue grills in the ’90s.

Intergalactic Bank Justice League
Cleaning up the accounting rules is an easier fix instead of a new, belabored, top-heavy “Systemic Risk Council” of the heads of federal financial regulatory agencies, as Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) envisions in financial regulatory reform.
An intergalactic Marvel Justice League of bank regulators can do nothing in the face of chicanery allowed in the rules.

Planes on a Tarmac
What happened was, banks and investment firms like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch who couldn’t sell these subprime bonds, or “collateralized debt obligations,” as well as other loan assets into these SIVs got caught out when the markets turned, stuck with this junk on their balance sheets like planes on a tarmac in a blizzard.
Bank of America saw its fourth-quarter 2007 profits plunge 95% largely due to SIV investments. SunTrust Banks’ earnings were nearly wiped out, a 98% drop in the same quarter, because of its SIVs.
Great Britain’s Northern Rock ran into huge problems in 2007 stemming from SIVs, and was later nationalized by the British government in February 2008.
Even the mortgage lending arm of tax preparer H&R Block used the move. Block sold its loans to off-balance-sheet vehicles so it could book gains about a month earlier than it otherwise would. Weee!
The company had $75 million of these items on its books at the end of its fiscal 2003 year. All totally within the rules.

Leverage Culture
The rampant fakery helped fuel a leverage culture that got a lot of homes put in hock.
Banks, for instance, started advertising home equity loans as “equity access,” or ways to “Live Richly” or as Fleet Bank once touted, “The smartest place to borrow? Your place.”
In fact, Washington Mutual and IndyMac got so excited by the gain on sale rules, they went so far as to count in profits futuristic gains even if they had only an “interest rate” commitment from a borrower, and not a final mortgage loan.
Talk about counting chickens before they hatch.

Closer Look at Wamu
Look at Wamu’s profits in just one year during the runup to the bubble. Such gains more than tripled in 2001 at Wamu, to just shy of $1 billion, or 22% of its pretax earnings before extraordinary items, up from $262 million, or 9%, in 2000.
But in 2001, Washington Mutual took $1.7 billion in charges, $1.1 billion of it in the final, fourth quarter, to reflect bleaker prospects for the revenue stream of all those servicing rights.
It papered over the hit with a nearly identical $1.8 billion gain on securitizations and portfolio sales.

Closer Look at Countrywide
The accounting fakery let Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage issuer now owned by Bank of America, triple its profit in 2003 to $2.4 billion on $8.5 billion in revenue.
At the height of the bubble, Countrywide booked $6.1 billion in gains from the sale of loans and securities. But this wasn’t cold, hard cash. No, this was potential future profits from servicing mortgage portfolios, meaning collecting monthly payments and late penalties.