I can’t even bring myself to hope that mortgage companies will ever face significant consequences for the economic havoc they’ve wreaked. There have been rumors that the Obama administration has been leaning on the state AGs to get them to lighten up on their penalities; I hope they’re just rumors, but I suspect not:
NEW YORK — The nation’s five largest mortgage firms have saved more than $20 billion since the housing crisis began in 2007 by taking shortcuts in processing troubled borrowers’ home loans, according to a confidential presentation prepared for state attorneys general by the nascent consumer bureau inside the Treasury Department.
That estimate suggests large banks have reaped tremendous benefits from under-serving distressed homeowners, a complaint frequent enough among borrowers that federal regulators have begun to acknowledge the industry’s fundamental shortcomings.
The dollar figure also provides a basis for regulators’ internal discussions regarding how best to penalize Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial in a settlement of wide-ranging allegations of wrongful and occasionally illegal foreclosures. People involved in the talks say some regulators want to levy a $5 billion penalty on the five firms, while others seek as much as $30 billion, with most of the money going toward reducing troubled homeowners’ mortgage payments and lowering loan balances for underwater borrowers, those who owe more on their home than it’s worth.
Even the highest of those figures, however, pales in comparison to the likely cost of reducing mortgage principal for the three million homeowners some federal agencies hope to reach. Lowering loan balances for that many underwater borrowers who owe less than $1.15 for every dollar their home is worth would cost as much as $135 billion, according to the internal presentation, dated Feb. 14, obtained by The Huffington Post.
But perhaps most important to some lawmakers in Washington, the mere existence of the report suggests a much deeper link between the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, led by Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, and the 50 state attorneys general who are leading the nationwide probe into the five firms’ improper foreclosure practices, a development sure to anger Republicans in Congress and a banking industry intent on diminishing the fledgling CFPB’s legitimacy by questioning its authority to act before it’s officially launched in July.
Earlier this month, Warren told the House Financial Services Committee, under intense questioning, that her agency has provided limited assistance to the various state and federal agencies involved in the industry probes. At one point, she was asked whether she made any recommendations regarding proposed penalties. She replied that her agency has only provided “advice.”