News Column

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank to pay $200 million over mortgage practices

June 30, 2014

By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

June 30--U.S. Bancorp is paying $200 million to resolve claims by the federal government that shoddy underwriting of home loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration violated federal law.

In a statement Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice blamed the Minneapolis-based lender for contributing to the nation's costly housing collapse and epidemic of foreclosures.

"By misusing government programs designed to maintain and expand homeownership, U.S. Bank not only wasted taxpayer funds, but inflicted harm on homeowners and the housing market that lasts to this day," said Stuart Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department'sCivil Division. "As this settlement shows, we will continue to hold accountable financial institutions that violate the law by pursuing their own financial interests at the expense of hardworking Americans."

The bank did not admit any liability. It said Monday it has a "legacy of being a respected mortgage lender, including a decades-long, strong working relationship with HUD and its FHA loan programs."

The Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees the FHA, which helps lower-income and first-time home buyers buy homes.

The pact is the latest in a string of deals the Justice Department has struck with major banks under the False Claims Act since early 2012 over loans that didn't qualify for FHA insurance. They include Flagstar Bank, Citibank, Deutsche Bank/Mortgage IT, Bank of America/Countrywide, JPMorgan Chase and SunTrust Mortgage.

Litigation with Wells Fargo & Co., the largest FHA lender, is ongoing.

The U.S. Bank settlement resolved the Justice Department investigation that the bank disclosed in May. U.S. Bank will pay the $200 million to the Justice Department.

In its release, Justice said that as part of the settlement U.S. Bank admitted that it repeatedly certified mortgage loans for FHA insurance from Jan. 2006 through 2011 when the loans did not meet HUD underwriting requirements.

The bank also admitted that its quality control program didn't meet FHA requirements and ultimately caused the FHA to insured "thousands" of loans that it shouldn't have. The FHA later wound up paying insurance claims on the loans that went belly up.

In one case, Justice said, U.S. Bank manually underwrote a mortgage in Naperville, Ill., without documenting the co-borrower's income and explaining the fact that the person had four accounts in collections including one that was opened less than nine months before the mortgage loan closed.

In mid-June, SunTrust Mortgage reached a $1 billion agreement with several federal agencies that included $418 million to resolve liability for violations involving FHA programs.

The FHA has been plagued with losses since the wave of foreclosures during the housing crisis, and last year required an infusion of $1.7 billion in taxpayer funds to shore up its Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. It has also had to raise mortgage insurance fees to raise money, and is under scrutiny for that.

Jennifer Bjorhus -- 612-673-4683


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Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

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