State to Help Homeowners With Settlement Money

LAS VEGAS -- The $57 million the office of Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is receiving from a multistate settlement with the nation's five largest mortgage lenders will be spent on homeowner assistance programs and other efforts related to the foreclosure crisis.

That's what a lot of people who risk losing their homes thought would happen with the entire $2.5 billion in cash penalties that Ally Financial, Bank of America/Countrywide, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase/Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo/Wachovia agreed in February to pay 49 states and Washington, D.C. That sum was part of the $25 billion agreement reached to settle claims that the nation's largest mortgage servicers contributed to the housing market collapse by employing unsavory banking practices.

But many states are using at least a portion of the cash payments to plug budget holes or finance other programs that have nothing to do with possible solutions to the foreclosures that have swept the nation..

ProPublica reported in May that states have diverted $974 million, nearly 40 percent of their share, for purposes other than helping struggling homeowners. California Gov. Jerry Brown, whose state continues to suffer from a severe budget crisis, has said he wants to use much of his state's $410.6 million share to help address that deficit.

ProPublica also reported that Georgia plans to spend its $99.4 million to attract new businesses, Ohio will use $75 million to destroy abandoned homes, and Missouri wants most of its $39.6 million to fund higher education.

The banks are also paying close to $1 billion in cash penalties to the federal government and $1.5 billion to individuals who lost their homes, up to $2,000 for each of those persons. The remaining $20 billion will represent costs the banks will absorb for delivering direct relief to underwater homeowners, including principal reduction and refinancing.

Nevada has been at or near the top of the nation's hardest-hit states for foreclosures over the past five years. According to ProPublica, more than 15.2 percent of Nevada's mortgage loans from 2008 through 2011 were delinquent for more than three months or were in foreclosure, second highest rate nationally behind Florida (nearly 17.9 percent).

Since the multistate settlement was reached, many homeowners undoubtedly are curious about when they'll see relief from the five banks. Any underwater homeowner who is making mortgage payments to any of those banks can get answers to some of their questions at the websites and

Homeowners who want to contact the mortgage services may do so by calling Bank of America at 877-488-7814, Citigroup at 866-272-4749, JPMorgan Chase at 866-372-6901, Ally Financial at 800-766-4622 or Wells Fargo at 800-288-3212. Keep in mind that the settlement only involves those banks, which make up only 20 percent of the nation's mortgage market.

A federal judge in April ordered the five banks to comply with new mortgage loan servicing standards, provide direct consumer relief, and submit to an independent monitor as part of the multistate settlement. The independent monitor is North Carolina banking commissioner Joseph Smith Jr.

Nevada's estimated share of the settlement is $1.5 billion. That includes $1.3 billion in loan modifications and other direct relief, $42 million in refinancing, $57 million in cash payments to borrowers who suffered mortgage servicing abuse and lost their homes to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, and the $57 million cash penalty to the state.

Masto spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said the $57 million cash penalty to the state and an additional $30 million from a separate settlement with Bank of America will be spent on consumer protection and legal aid efforts, housing counseling assistance, financial literacy education, law enforcement to prosecute financial fraud and on other programs aimed at avoiding preventable foreclosures.

Of the separate $57 million that will be distributed to those who lost their homes, Lopez said the amount each will receive depends on the number of eligible applicants. She said additional information on those payments will be available beginning this fall when the settlement administrator is expected to distribute claim forms to eligible borrowers and establish a hotline and website for those who believe they are eligible to make a claim.

The banks on March 1 were given permission to begin notifying homeowners by mail who are eligible for principal reduction or refinancing, though Lopez said the number served so far is not yet known. To be eligible for refinancing the bank has to own the first lien, the borrower must be current on payments over the past 12 months, the loan has to have originated before Jan. 1, 2009, the loan has to exceed the value of the home, the mortgage cannot have been modified in the past 24 months, and the homeowners has to have received pre-refinance interest rate of at least 5.25 percent.

The settlement is supposed to take three years to fully execute, which means it should be completed by February 2015 if the schedule is met. But the mortgage servicers will receive certain incentives if they complete their refinancing within the first year of the settlement, and are required to complete at least 75 percent of their consumer relief requirements within two years.


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