B of A offers to slash mortgage principal
Eligible homeowners could get $150,000 on average knocked off the balance of their mortgages.
This post comes from Diana Olick at partner site CNBC.
A select group of struggling mortgage borrowers is about to get an offer that sounds too good to be true. Executives at Bank of America say that they will begin mailing 200,000 letters offering certain customers mortgage principal reduction.
"If people get these things and toss them, they won't be eligible," says Ron Sturzenegger, the Bank of America executive charged with providing solutions to borrowers in need of mortgage assistance. (Post continues below video.)
But the offer is real, and eligible borrowers could get an average of $150,000 knocked off the balance of their mortgages. It is all part of the $26 billion settlement reached this year between federal and state agencies and the nation's five largest mortgage servicers over fraudulent foreclosure document processing (so-called "robo-signing").
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Bank of America, in a deal with state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice, committed $11 billion to mortgage-principal reduction, but executives say they will go beyond that if enough borrowers respond to their offer. Five thousand borrowers have already received a collective $700 million in principal reduction through a pilot program for those already in a modification negotiation. The 200,000 borrowers being targeted now may have already exhausted modification options or may have yet to contact the lender.
Executives say borrowers receiving the letters are eligible, but they still have to prove they qualify. In order to be eligible, a borrower must be 60 days late on the mortgage payment as of Jan. 31, 2012. The borrower has to owe more on the mortgage than the home is currently worth, commonly known as being "underwater" on the mortgage, and the borrower's loan must either be owned by Bank of America or be serviced by Bank of America for an investor who is allowing the modifications.
In order to qualify for the modification, the borrower must answer the letter with full documentation of income, showing that under the terms of the modification he can make the monthly payment. A borrower with no income would, therefore, not qualify. A borrower's current monthly payment must be more than 25% of gross income, and the borrower must show he is unable to afford that.
"If you can afford to make your monthly payment and are choosing not to, you will not get this principal modification," says Sturzenegger.
If the borrower qualifies, Bank of America will bring the monthly mortgage payment down to 25% of the borrower's gross income. That could mean principal forgiveness of more than $100,000, as there is no limit to the amount of the mortgage. If enough borrowers respond, it could cost Bank of America far more than it committed to in the settlement.
"Yes, we have the capability to go well beyond the $11 billion," adds Sturzenegger.
Bank executives say that before choosing which borrowers will get the offer, they performed a net present value test on each loan, making sure that the principal reduction modification would net Bank of America or the investor who owns the loan more than foreclosing on the home would. "It has to be fair to the investor as well," says Sturzenegger.
Not all of the 200,000 borrowers who receive the letters are expected to respond. Executives say there is a level of fatigue among delinquent borrowers who have already received several notices or who may have gone through a failed modification process already. Some borrowers simply don't want to stay in their homes, while others may think the offer is a scam.
"They have been contacted by a lot of other people, and this offer may appear too good to be true," says Sturzenegger.
That's why Bank of America is sending the letters by certified mail and trying to make the language as simple as possible. A sample letter obtained by CNBC shows a red box in the top corner labeled "IMPORTANT" and simple language stating, "Qualifying customers may reduce their monthly payment by an average of 35 percent."
Some 6,500 letters should be arriving in mailboxes across the country this week, with a wave of new letters going out every week until the end of the summer, when all 200,000 should have been mailed. Bank of America is staggering the mailings in order to better handle the expected response.
The bank has staffed up to handle the task, with 50,000 employees manning servicing desks, but the process will clearly take some time. That's why Bank of America has suspended any foreclosure actions against these 200,000 borrowers until the process is complete.
There are currently 5.59 million U.S. loans that are either delinquent or in the foreclosure process, according to Lender Processing Services. Bank of America services about a million of those loans, but many of them are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their regulator, Edward DeMarco of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has yet to agree to principal reduction in loan modifications, despite harsh criticism from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill and increasing pressure from the White House.
More from CNBC and MSN Money:
sent to my brother, a BofA employee-
so if I understand it:
BofA et al robostamp foreclosures left and right, leading to smashed
credit/lost homes all over the US
BofA et al receive penalty
BofA et al target people who bought a house they can't afford and 'give'
them money via reducing total mortgage (personal issue stories notwithstanding)
People who handled their finances, are capable of, and have continued to pay
for their home get nothing and will ultimately end up footing the bill via
increased bank charges, interest rates, etc.
People who lost their home receive nothing and continue to ride out their
bad credit rating for the next 7+ years
... and yet, somehow, I don't feel like the terms of this agreement are
Trav, like I said I'm sorry you got hurt...if insurance and worker's comp don't cover it, then I'm sorry but while that was going on, you had time to move into a more reasonable living space until such time you could afford it. If your mortgage company wanted to give you a break on payments for a while, good for them. If not, I would ask you the same question...how were you going to pay your bills? Or WHO was going to pay them?
In GENERAL, not everybody is talking about your situation or injuries. 99% of the time, people just overextended and/or just stopped paying because they knew the banks could do nothing. Or are just bad with money. And BTW, if I had to, I could live on $700 a month...ANYONE can. You might be eating some crappy food and not going anywhere for a while but that's your choice if you can't.
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