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$25B Nationwide Mortgage Deal Goes To States

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Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s five largest mortgage lenders have agreed to overhaul their industry after deceptive foreclosure practices drove homeowners out of their homes, government officials said Monday.

A draft settlement between the banks and U.S. states has been sent to state officials for review.

Those who lost their homes to foreclosure are unlikely to get their homes back or benefit much financially from the settlement, which could be as high as $25 billion. About 750,000 Americans — about half of the households who might be eligible for assistance under the deal — will likely receive checks for about $1,800.

But the agreement could reshape long-standing mortgage lending guidelines and make it easier for those at risk of foreclosure to restructure their loans. And roughly 1 million homeowners could see the size of their mortgage reduced.

Five major banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial — and U.S. state attorneys general could adopt the agreement within weeks, according to two officials briefed on the discussions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the agreement publicly.

The settlement would be the biggest of a single industry since the 1998 multistate tobacco deal. And it would end a painful chapter that grew out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Nearly 8 million Americans have faced foreclosure since the housing bubble burst. In some cases, companies that process mortgages failed to verify the information on foreclosure documents. The worst practices, known collectively as “robo-signing,” included employees signing documents they hadn’t read or using fake signatures to sign off on foreclosures.

President Barack Obama is expected to tout the settlement in his State of the Union address Tuesday. His administration has put pressure on state officials to wrap up a deal more than a year in the making.

But some say the proposed deal doesn’t go far enough. They have argued for a thorough investigation of potentially illegal foreclosure practices before a settlement is hammered out.

“Wall Street again is trying to pass the buck. Instead of criminal prosecutions, we’re talking about something that’s not more than a slap on the wrist,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been critical of the proposed settlement.

A signed deal is not expected this week, said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who has led the 50-state negotiations.

The settlement would only apply to privately held mortgages issued between 2008 and 2011, not those held by government-controlled Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie and Freddie own about half of all U.S. mortgages, roughly about 31 million U.S. home loans.

As part of the deal, about 1 million homeowners could also get the principal amount of their mortgages written down by an average of $20,000. One in four homeowners with a mortgage — or roughly 11 million people — owe more than their home is worth. These so-called “underwater” borrowers have little chance at refinancing.

Democratic attorneys general met Monday in Chicago to discuss the deal with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Republican attorneys general were briefed about the deals via conference call later in the day.

Under the deal:

— $17 billion would go toward reducing the principal that struggling homeowners owe on their mortgages.

— $5 billion would be placed in a reserve account for various state and federal programs; a portion of that money would cover the $1,800 checks sent to those homeowners affected by the deceptive practices.

— $3 billion would to help homeowners refinance at 5.25 percent.

In October 2010, major banks temporarily suspended foreclosures following revelations of widespread deceptive foreclosure practices by banks. Discussions then began over a national settlement.

Some states have disagreed over what terms to offer the banks. In September, California announced it would not agree to a settlement over foreclosure abuses that state and federal officials have been working on for more than a year.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said in a statement Monday that her ability to go after potential wrongdoing by mortgage lenders “remains a key lens through which she will evaluate any proposals.” But her office declined to comment on the proposed deal circulating Monday. And it wouldn’t say whether California, the state with the greatest number of people who lost their homes to foreclosure, would agree to the deal.

New York, Delaware, Nevada and Massachusetts, which sued five major banks earlier in December over deceptive foreclosure practices, have also argued that banks should not be protected from future civil liability. The deal will not fully release banks from future criminal lawsuits by individual states.

And both sides have also fought over the amounts of money that should be placed in the reserve account for property owners who were improperly foreclosed upon. Many of the larger points of the deal, including a $25 billion cost for the banks, have long been worked out, officials say.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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