Massive Mortgage Settlement Finally Coming Together

The multibillion-dollar deal, more than a year in negotiations between the biggest home mortgage servicers on one side and the states’ attorneys general and federal agencies on the other, may be just days from being finished. The deadline for each state’s attorney general to decide whether to sign was Friday, February 3, but that has now been extended to Monday, February 6.

This settlement is to resolve allegations about an extensive series of foreclosure and mortgage loan-servicing abuses that came to light in the summer and fall of 2010. State and federal officials have since then been negotiating an agreement with five major mortgage servicers. It would provide some very specific mortgage relief to homeowners and would establish strict requirements for how banks could conduct foreclosures. The negotiations have gone back and forth, with various proposals being floated, resulting in very public displays of protest by various bank-friendly sets of attorneys general on one hand and by other more aggressive attorneys general on the other. A settlement now looks imminent, in large part because of the timing of the current election cycle, as well as the dire need for progress on the never-ending home foreclosure front —and because this has dragged on for so long.

Since this story is evolving every day, I’m going to provide you with a few recent news articles about it, introducing each one to help you decide if you want to look at it.

This USA Today article gets right to what we all care about, “Who benefits from possible $25B mortgage settlement?”  It’s actually a good summary—in a Q&A format—of the likely terms of the settlement and its effects on homeowners and the housing market. Some of the questions include: “How might the $25B be spent?” “Who will get [mortgage] principal reductions?” “How tough are the potential settlement terms on the banks?

“Mortgage deal would give states enforcement clout” from Reuters addresses the concern “that banks have not adequately followed through on prior settlements, a concern that has pushed government negotiators to establish more forceful enforcement mechanisms in this deal than have been used in the past.” So this deal gives the states, along with a separate “monitoring committee,” the power to go to court to enforce the terms of the settlement and to ask for penalties of up to $5 million per violation.

And if you want to get a taste of how complicated these negotiations have been on the technical side (without even accounting for the intense political pressures), here is a letter dated January 27, 2012 from the Nevada Attorney General to the officials who have been spearheading the settlement. In the letter, she asks for written answers to 38 questions so that her state can decide whether or not to sign on to the settlement. It’ll make your head spin. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.