News Column

Fla. Homeowners Get $1.7 Billion in Mortgage Relief

Aug. 30, 2012

Kimberly Miller

Florida homeowners have had more than $187 million in mortgage debt wiped out in the first phase of the multi-billion settlement between the nation's five largest banks and state attorneys general.

An initial progress report on the landmark agreement reached in February was released Wednesday, offering the first comprehensive details on how banks are meeting requirements that include offering $25 billion in mortgage relief nationwide.

Between March 1 and June 30, a total of $1.7 billion in loan help was distributed in Florida through mortgage principal reductions, refinances, short sale approvals and other activities such as moving assistance for people who can't stay in their homes.

About 23,110 Florida homeowners have so far benefited from the settlement, with an average relief per borrower of $74,240.

Nationally, $10.5 billion in mortgage relief, including $1.3 billion in debt reduction, was meted out by banks, according to Wednesday's report issued by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight and independent monitor Joseph Smith.

"The preliminary information we've gotten is encouraging, to me at least, but it's just that -- preliminary," said Smith, a former North Carolina banking commissioner. "Victory is not declared yet."

The banks included in the settlement are JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and Ally Financial, formerly GMAC. Loans held by federal mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not included.

Florida's share of the settlement -- $8.4 billion in cash and mortgage relief -- is second only to California.

Banks receive different credits in meeting their obligation depending on what kind of assistance they provide. For example, banks get a dollar for dollar match on principal reductions, but just five cents on the dollar for a forbearance that may reduce payments but lengthen the life of the loan.

While thousands of Florida homeowners have benefited from the settlement, the state also has the second highest number of consumer complaints -- 115. California had 315 consumer complaints.

Lake Worth resident Marshall Fleury wrote to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi after he was denied a lower interest rate on his loan.

Fleury's mortgage is underwater, but he's current on his payments. He estimates he could save as much as $600 a month if his 6.4 percent interest rate was reduced to 4 percent.

"What they ought to say to you is, if you've never missed a payment and are a good customer, is that they want to help," Fleury said. "I got a letter Aug. 19 basically saying I wasn't eligible for any program."

Boynton Beach resident Brian Dublynn, who is also current on his payments, had a different experience. He found success refinancing his Chase interest-only loan to a fixed rate with no closing costs.

"We said, 'Things like this just don't happen'," he said. "But we've got the letter of approval."

Lenders have until Feb. 28, 2015 to meet the settlement requirements.

Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said many of his company's contributions are not included in the report because programs ramped up after the June 30 cutoff date.

Not counted are 526 Florida homeowners who have received $73 million in debt forgiveness, or 70 homeowners who have saved $18 million by refinancing.

"We believe we will reach or exceed all program agreements," he said. "In the past five to six weeks there has been a lot of momentum."

For more information on the settlement, go to nationalmortgagesettlement.com. Florida mortgage relief: March 1 -- June 30

$115.3 million in primary mortgage debt forgiveness

$37.3 million in previous mortgage forbearance that is now forgiven

$31.7 million in second mortgage debt forgiveness

$1.5 million in completed short sales

$42.4 million in other activity, including moving assistance and deficiency waivers

$14.7 million in consumer savings from refinancing to a lower interest rate

23,110 homeowners affected, with an average savings of $74,240 per borrower

Source: Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight



Source: (c)2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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