Over the past week or so, Northeast CONTACT has heard from two Maine consumers who have mortgage problems. They represent a large number of people facing life-changing financial situations. The bad news is that a lot of mortgage holders have been mistreated by lending institutions. The good news is there may be some help coming for them soon.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report last week spreading around the blame for the mortgage problems. The “robo-signing” of legal documents by officials at the country’s biggest banks already has been well-documented. The new report charged that bank managers are encouraged to hurry foreclosure paperwork through the system. Some employees were rated on their ability to keep the papers flying. Often, their supervisors were unaware of the facts of the foreclosures.
“I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question: ‘How could so many people have participated in this misconduct?’” David Montoya, HUD inspector general, said in a statement. “The answer: simple greed.”
The big five banks — Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — have reached a general agreement with federal and state authorities. When all the details are negotiated, the agreement could give a measure of relief to affected consumers while heading off protracted court battles over who’s to blame.
Maine Attorney General William Schneider’s office is taking part in those discussions. A recent report to the Maine Legislature suggests that, if a settlement is reached, some of the funds could be set aside for foreclosure prevention programs the state runs. The report says more should be known about the status of those negotiations sometime in April.
For people with mortgages in Maine, the drum has been beating as loudly as anywhere. And many of the homeowners who are in financial trouble turn to people who bill themselves as mortgage counselors but who often may do more harm than good.
Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection hears from people every day who are facing foreclosure, and many have dealt with such “counselors.” Bureau Superintendent William Lund says roughly 10 percent of those consumers have sent money — sometimes thousands of dollars — to unlicensed, out-of-state mortgage rescue companies and sometimes law firms. Their help usually is slow in coming.
“The real harm is that consumers have wasted precious time waiting in vain for these firms to negotiate loan modifications on their behalf,” Lund said. “Free, HUD-certified housing counselors located here in Maine are available to homeowners, and we can make referrals for any consumers who call us on the state’s official foreclosure prevention hot line, 1-888-664-2569 (1-888-NO-4-CLOZ).”
Find out more about preventing foreclosure on our blog, http://necontact.wordpress.com. Scroll down to the panel labeled “Self Help” and click on “Foreclosure Prevention Kit.” There you can find toll-free numbers for the five large banks involved in the settlement. You’ll also find a link (www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com) you can use to get about details of the settlement as negotiations continue.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.