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Millions of homeowners forgo foreclosure reviews

8:07 AM, Dec 28, 2012   |    comments
A foreclosure sign in Tigard, Ore.(Photo: Don Ryan, AP file)
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Millions of homeowners who were in foreclosure in 2009 or 2010 could miss a chance to have their cases reviewed for errors - and possible compensation - if they don't act by Monday.

That's the deadline for eligible homeowners to request a free review required by a settlement last year between federal bank regulators and 14 mortgage servicers and their affiliates. (See list below.) The deadline has been extended three times due to poor response from homeowners.

More than 4 million notices were mailed to homeowners a year ago informing them of their right to a review, but only 356,000 had asked for one by Dec. 13, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Compensation could range from hundreds of dollars to more than $100,000, the OCC has said. It is overseeing the settlement with the Federal Reserve.

Requests must be submitted online at the website independentforeclosurereview.com or be postmarked no later than Monday, the OCC says. Answers to questions can be found on the website or by calling 888-952-9105.

"The (response) numbers are not terribly impressive," says Bruce Mirken of the Greenlining Institute, a consumer advocacy group.

Greenlining, like other consumer groups, says borrowers may still not be aware of the review opportunity.

Notification materials - including the 4 million letters - may have been ignored because they were written in legal jargon, were hard to read and looked too much like those used in foreclosure scams, says James Carr, a senior policy fellow with the Opportunity Agenda, a non-partisan think tank.

A Government Accountability Office report in June echoed those concerns.

The settlement followed a federal probe in which regulators found significant weaknesses in foreclosure processes, including improper foreclosure document preparation.

To meet regulators' deadlines, the GAO noted that servicers had just 60 days to develop outreach materials. That didn't leave time to test them with focus groups, one servicer representative told the GAO.

About 95% of the letters were successfully delivered, the OCC has said.

The reviews are intended to address a wide range of foreclosure errors, including excessive fees, wrongly denied loan modifications, misapplied payments or wrongful foreclosures.

Borrower restitution will vary by case and financial harm, the OCC says. It's provided no cost estimate to servicers.

No one has yet received restitution, says OCC spokesman William Grassano.

The requested reviews are in addition to 159,000 reviews being done, as part of the same settlement, by consultants hired by the servicers, Grassano says.

The Monday deadline should be lifted and review requests should be allowed as needed, the community groups say, especially since more recent outreach efforts have been more consumer friendly.

The reviews are separate from a $25 billion settlement, reached between five servicers and state and federal officials, that's also meant to address past foreclosure abuses.

In that case, the deadline to make a claim is Jan. 18 for part of a $1.5 billion pot.

Notices went to 1.75 million eligible claimants in September and October, says Iowa Assistant Attorney General Patrick Madigan.

So far, about 43% have filed a claim. Madigan expects the response rate to exceed 50%.

If everyone applied, the payout would be $840 per borrower, says information on the settlement website at www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com.

Under that settlement, borrowers must have actually lost a home to foreclosure from 2008 through 2011, had their loan serviced by one of five participating servicers, attest to having suffered a foreclosure abuse and meet other requirements.

The servicers in the settlement are Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, Ally/GMAC and Wells Fargo. The settlement administrator can be reached at 866-430-8358.

The response rate for that settlement may be higher than for the review settlement partly because claimants simply have to attest to having suffered a foreclosure abuse, which could be an irritant such as a servicer losing paperwork, Madigan says.

In the review settlement overseen by the OCC, foreclosure files will be actually checked for errors.

Borrowers can apply to both programs.

Independent foreclosure reviews are being offered to customers of these mortgage servicers and affiliates whose primary residences were involved in foreclosure action in 2009 or 2010:

America's Servicing Co.
Aurora Loan Services
BAC Home Loans Servicing
Bank of America
Beneficial
Chase
Citibank
CitiFinancial
CitiMortgage
Countrywide
EMC
EverBank/EverHome Mortgage Company
Financial Freedom
GMAC Mortgage
HFC
HSBC
IndyMac Mortgage Services
MetLife Bank
National City Mortgage
PNC Mortgage
Sovereign Bank
SunTrust Mortgage
U.S. Bank
Wachovia
Washington Mutual
Wells Fargo
Wilshire Credit Corp.

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