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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Editorials

Bondi says Bank of America failing to live up to national mortgage settlement terms

Published:

It can be argued that Bank of America owes its very existence to the taxpayers behind the billions of dollars in bailout money the bank needed to survive the consequences of its own reckless behavior.

Had it not been considered "too big to fail," Bank of America might be a footnote to the nation's economic collapse five years ago.

If any institution should feel grateful toward the public, it's Bank of America.

Yet the bank continues to treat some Florida borrowers with a degree of disdain. Not only is that shameful, it may be in violation of a legal agreement it signed.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sent a five-page letter to Bank of America earlier this month outlining her concerns with the bank's behavior. Bondi says the bank is failing to live up to the rules set forth in a $25 billion national mortgage settlement involving five banks and 49 attorneys general.

The banks signed the agreement to settle litigation over their conduct during the nation's mortgage meltdown. Remember the disgraceful robo-signing fraud?

Much of the settlement money is meant to help borrowers avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes by working out loan modifications.

As part of the agreement, the banks are supposed to provide borrowers with a single point of contact to spare them from dealing with someone different every time they call the bank.

They are supposed to respond to applications for a loan modification within three days, and make a decision on a complete application within 30 days.

All five banks - Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and the former Ally Financial - have come under criticism for failing to live up the terms of the agreement. Across the country, 60,000 complaints have been forwarded to an independent monitor overseeing the agreement.

Bank of America was singled out by Bondi because of the number and nature of the complaints. According to Bondi's letter: Some loan modification applications are met with lengthy delays, which can plunge borrowers further into debt; the bank has sent form letters to Bondi's staff when they attempt to intervene; the bank has pursued foreclosures against homeowners who are attempting at the same time to obtain a loan modification; and the bank has not provided a single point of contact.

Bondi says the behavior violates both the spirit and letter of the settlement, and she is considering legal action if the bank doesn't clean up its act. Bondi isn't alone in complaining. New York's attorney general also threatened legal action, against Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

For its part, Bank of America says it addresses problems when they are brought to its attention, and that it has extended more relief to borrowers under the settlement than the four other mortgage servicers combined.

That's no consolation to the borrowers who face the prospect of losing their homes because the bank skirted its obligations.

One borrower helped by Bondi's office was unable to apply for a loan modification because of a zip code error in the bank's records. Another borrower said the bank served his 16-year-old daughter with foreclosure papers at the same time he was seeking a modification.

"But for the intervention of my office, it is likely these borrowers would have lost their homes to foreclosure, despite their concerted efforts to obtain a loan modification or otherwise mitigate their losses by obtaining relief for which they were qualified," Bondi wrote in her letter to the bank.

In all, her office has referred roughly 100 complaints about Bank of America to the independent monitor.

As a whole, these complaints point more to incompetence than to a deliberate effort to frustrate the settlement terms.

But incompetence is no excuse for causing frustration and fear among qualified borrowers who are legitimately seeking relief.

Bank of America needs to live up to the terms of the settlement, or face the consequences.

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