$8.4 Billion Countrywide Settlement… and why they only lower the interest!

31 Jan

I have gotten a number of calls asking if the home ownership retention program announced by Bank of America is likely to have an impact on foreclosures in CA. This program is a settlement with the CA Attorney General, Jerry Brown, and other state attorney generals that were suing Countrywide / Bank of America for predatory lending practices. It is expected to provide up to $8.4 Billion to 400,000 borrowers nationwide, with $3.5 Billion to 125,000 borrowers in CA.

While $8.4 Billion is a huge number – roughly 7.75% of BAC’s market cap today – it is literally a laughable amount. Problem is that it equals only $28,000 per loan in California. I compared that number to the average amount a California homeowner is upside down at the time of foreclosure – the average total debt is $26,200 more than they originally borrowed.(all that negative amortization) So in the best case scenario this puts borrowers back where they started, in loans they fundamentally can’t afford.So really it is nothing. The best thing is that it is admission of fault that could be used in individual cases against the lender in an individual action.

Note that they clearly state that principal balance reduction will only be available on a limited basis to restore negative equity from pay option ARMs – which makes sense given that they really don’t have enough money to do much more. Instead the primary goal is to ensure “modifications are affordable”. Given that they simply don’t have the money to lower principal balances to affordable levels, that means more artificially low payments… the exact thing that got us into this problem in the first place.

So back to the original question, will it likely impact foreclosures? Sort of, but only temporarily. It could impact your foreclosure if you were to copy the complaint and file your own case against countrywide at least you would not get a demur to the complaint. I posted the text of the complaint on Dec 31, 2008 California and everybody else V Countrywidecountrywide-complaint-form

They have graciously committed to not pursue foreclosure until they have contacted the owner and made a decision on program eligibility. So it appears to impact foreclosures, except that the recently passed SB1137 re codified as civil code 2923.5 and 2923.6 required them to do that anyway – so this claim is little more than spin.

Since this completely fails to address the underlying problem of the original loan amounts often exceeding current market value by $100k or more I’d also say the impact will only be temporary. Though that may still be a long time. In one case I recently reviewed Countrywide had a loan balance of over $900k on a home worth $550k – they modified the payment to 2% interest only for 5 years. The homeowner can afford it for now, but what happens in 5 years? Your’e kidding yourself if you think values are going back to those levels that quickly. Do we really still want to be cleaning this mess up 5 years from now?

Bottom line, Jerry Brown and the other state’s attorney generals have given Bank of America a gift. The opportunity to avoid litigation while getting the state’s endorsement for a plan that will never work and buying them precious time to find a way out of their dire predicament. Like the bailouts it’s possible it may help save this financial institution, but it will only delay our return to a stable and healthy real estate market.

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2 Responses to “$8.4 Billion Countrywide Settlement… and why they only lower the interest!”

  1. Lori February 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm #

    I had a loan with World Savings Bank,
    then it changed to Wachovia.
    It turns out that it was a
    adjustable Rate Mortgage Note
    Pick A Payment Loan. I have called
    them many times and asked them
    about the 3 payments. They told me
    on several occasions that it was O.K.
    to pay the minimun payment- No
    problem! I am finding out exactly
    what kind of a problem it is.
    Are they in trouble for fraud?

    • timothymccandless February 11, 2009 at 6:18 am #

      Many class actions have identified the problem do a search under option one and you will see. they could be in trouble but you will never know until you file an action against them

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