POCKET CHANGE!! BofA’s Countrywide settles with FTC for $108 million

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp has agreed to pay $108 million to settle government charges that its Countrywide unit, the mortgage lender that became synonymous with risky lending practices, bilked borrowers with misleading and excessive fees.

Housing Market

The Federal Trade Commission said two Countrywide mortgage servicing units deceived cash-strapped homeowners by overcharging them by hundreds or thousands of dollars, sometimes when they were already in bankruptcy.

The alleged activity took place before Bank of America acquired the distressed lender in 2008.

The settlement is a small win for regulators trying to hold to account those who contributed to the deep financial crisis.

The agency called the $108 million settlement one of the largest in an FTC case and the largest in a mortgage servicing case. The FTC has no jurisdiction over banks but does have jurisdiction over deceptive practices by non-bank financial services and products firms.

Countrywide, which was once the nation’s top mortgage lender, “profited from making risky loans to homeowners during the boom years, and then profited again when the loans failed,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, noting that some fees during the foreclosure process were marked up more than 400 percent.

Bank of America said in a statement that it agreed to the settlement to void the expense and distraction of litigating the case. There was no admission of wrongdoing.

The FTC said the $108 million, which represents the amount consumers were overcharged, would be used to repay borrowers but could take months to sort out.

“The record-keeping of Countrywide was abysmal,” said Leibowitz. “Most frat houses have better record-keeping than Countrywide.”

In May, Countrywide agreed to a $624 million settlement of a class action lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors about its lending practices. The case was led by several pension funds, including the New York State Common Retirement Fund, that state’s $129.4 billion public pension fund, and five New York City pension funds.

Once the largest U.S. mortgage lender, Countrywide and its long-time chief executive, Angelo Mozilo, became known for risky lending practices that helped fuel the U.S. housing boom and subsequent bust.

Countrywide nearly collapsed as credit markets tightened, before Bank of America agreed to buy it in January 2008 in a stock deal valued at about $4 billion.

Mozilo and two other former Countrywide executives remain defendants in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil fraud lawsuit.

The SEC alleges that Mozilo hid from investors the deteriorating prospects of Countrywide, and conducted insider trading by entering a systematic stock selling plan in late 2006, knowing that the mortgage lender’s prospects would worsen.

The SEC claimed Mozilo violated insider trading rules in generating a $139 million profit by exercising stock options in 2006 and 2007.

It said the exercises came after he admitted in an email to colleagues that Countrywide was “flying blind” as to the quality of its loans.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and a member of the panel working out final wording on a comprehensive overhaul of Wall Street, called the FTC settlement “a major breakthrough that closes one of the ugliest chapters of the entire subprime mortgage crisis.”

“Anyone who believes the blame for the housing crisis rests with borrowers should read this settlement and learn just how shameless these lenders were during these years,” Schumer said.

(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and by Joe Rauch in Charlotte; editing by John Wallace and Gerald E. McCormick)

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GFE: New paperwork meant to protect buyers creates new headaches

Lets not act surprised. New headache to some that have to actually work and explain the package in detail. Ah those days of zooooming by… sign here, initial here are long gone.

That YSP is just a fee we can add to your mortgage…”We can roll it into the mortgage so you don’t need to bring any $$ to the table”. 

WASHINGTON – April 26, 2010 – As the real estate industry makes the transition to a revised Good Faith Estimate (GFE) launched by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earlier this year, feedback from lenders and consumers suggests that the new process may be confusing and impractical.

Closings have been dragged out as brokers and title insurers strive to understand the longer, more detailed document and explain it to home buyers; and some lenders have been forced to create their own forms in an effort to explain what is reflected in the GFE.

The GFE changes are well-intentioned, aiming to provide new transparency on costs to buyers, who have long complained of hidden fees; better allow comparison shopping between lenders; prevent kickbacks and referral fees; and make lenders more accountable for mistakes or misrepresentations.

But, says Pava Leyrer of Heritage National Mortgage in Grandville, Mich., “borrowers are looking at this form and saying, ‘This doesn’t make any sense for us, why can’t we have something that’s more simple?'”

Among the areas causing confusion are previously itemized costs that are now are lumped together; the inclusion of some seller-paid costs, like title insurance fees, that inflate the estimate by thousands over what the borrower would actually pay at settlement; and the absence of a total monthly payment estimate on the GFE, which borrowers must now calculate on their own by referring to other documents.

Source: Boston Globe (04/23/10) Sainz, Adrian

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