Archive for 'mortgages'

The Federal government has recently changed its guidelines on refinancing.

Homeowners who are “underwater” in regards to value in their homes can now also take advantage some of the lowest rates in 60 years, regardless of your appraised value or loan amount.

The Federal Housing Administration will reduce mortgage fees significantly for borrowers who qualify for the FHA’s streamline refinance program, after June 11, 2012.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, more than 750,000 borrowers have refinanced their mortgages through FHA’s streamline program, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than half of those refinances took place in 2009 after the housing and mortgage markets collapsed.
But rising mortgage insurance premiums on FHA loans have become an obstacle for many homeowners who want to refinance. Depending on the size of the loan, the fees can eat up much of what the borrower would save through the refinance. FHA asserts that lowering the MIP rates for streamline refinances will not incur taxpayer expenses or jeopardize its mutual mortgage insurance fund.
In this streamline program, the FHA asks for limited documentation from borrowers and doesn’t require an appraisal of the home. The no-appraisal rule allows owners to refinance even if they owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.
The lower fees go into effect June 11 and will be available to borrowers who refinance loans that were endorsed by the FHA before June 2009. FHA estimates that there are approximately 3.4 million households with qualifying FHA mortgage loans with mortgage rates over 5 percent.
The average household could save about $250 per month or $3000 annually using streamline refinancing.
Acting FHA commissioner Carol Galante remarked that lowering the insurance premium rates for streamlining FHA mortgages “is one way that FHA can help homeowners who are doing the right thing, paying their bills on time and who want to take advantage of today’s low interest rates.”
The program is providing an inexpensive method of refinancing, which can prevent foreclosures and provide homeowners with additional cash for paying bills and meeting essential household expenses.
The FHA Streamline Refinance is a unique mortgage product, available to homeowners with existing FHA home loans only. The program was built to be the fastest, simplest way for an FHA-insured homeowners to refinance their respective mortgages. The FHA Streamline Refinance’s big attraction is the leniency of its underwriting standards.
But In Order to Qualify, You Must Meet This Criteria…
    Your current FHA mortgage must have been assigned before May, 2009
    You must be current on your mortgage and not been late over the last 12 months consecutive.
If you meet these two criteria, you may be FHA Streamline-eligible and below are a few other items to consider,
If you had a bankruptcy, you are most likely eligible, but please call expert Loan officers and other mortgage professionals for more information about your particular situation.
There are many options available, including a “no-closing cost” option where you won’t have to come out of pocket for the refinance.
And remember: you may “not” need an appraisal to qualify.
The Federal Housing Administration will reduce mortgage fees significantly for borrowers who qualify for the FHA’s streamline refinance program. Again, the lower fees go into effect June 11 and will be available to borrowers who refinance loans that were endorsed by the FHA before June 2009.
The new, lower fees will make streamline refinances much more feasible to borrowers, as some estimates when the new fees take effect will be, a borrower refinancing $200,000 will pay $20 — instead of $3,500 — in upfront mortgage insurance. The borrower also will pay about $92 — instead of $208 — per month for annual mortgage insurance.
That’s because the FHA reduced the upfront mortgage insurance premium for eligible homeowners to 0.01 percent of the total loan and the annual premium to 0.55 percent of the loan.
In comparison the borrowers who are “not eligible” for the reduced fees under the streamline program, the cost of upfront mortgage insurance is 1.75 percent of the total loan and 1.25 percent of the loan per year.
Loan officers and other mortgage professionals say they have lists of clients who are waiting to refinance in June with the lower fees which could create a mini-refinance boom in June after the fees are reduced.
Remember that “No appraisal required”, except some lenders have overlays, if you are going from a 30-year to a (15-year mortgage) and your payment is not decreasing, or if you are removing one person off the title,” you’ll need an appraisal
As long as your mortgage payments decrease by at least 5 percent with the refinance, the lender does not have to order an appraisal of your home.
These guidelines are to help homeowners who are upside down on their mortgages.
Generally, lenders want a FICO score of 640 or higher for streamline refinances, Some lenders are willing to accept 620 and a few will go lower than that, but they usually charge higher rates on loans with lower scores.The FHA does not require a minimum credit score for streamline refinances, but the lender that is refinancing your mortgage will likely have its own requirements, as an additional “overlay”
With the streamline program, the FHA allows borrowers to refinance without having to show proof of employment and income. Although some states have laws that require lenders to verify borrowers’ income on all mortgages regardless of what the federal program allows. And in some cases you will likely be asked to present documentation that shows you can afford the mortgage payments.
In the last few years Lenders have been reluctant to underwrite mortgages without asking for full documentation and minimum credit scores, especially when many of the mortgages they are being asked to refinance have lower values and are underwater.
So these new guidlines should encourage lenders to embrace streamline refinances, since the government has changed the way it evaluates lenders’ FHA loan portfolios. The FHA has a scoring system based on the performance of each lender’s FHA loans. If a particular lender has too many delinquent loans compared to other lenders, the FHA may stop doing business with that lender.
Historically, the FHA Streamline Refinance has been an excellent program with lots of success stories and it remains the fastest, easiest refinance loan program in the country.
The FHA will start accepting these new streamline loans after June 11, 2012 but borrowers can begin the application process now in anticipation of the new program.
Everyone needs to be sure to find the ethical honest “Real Estate Industry Professionals” willing to assist the “American Homeowners”  who are “underwater” in regards to value in their home, be sure to  educate yourself, and beware of the mortgage fraudsters. Mortgage fraud is a material misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission relied on by an underwriter or lender to refinance, fund, purchase, or insure a loan.
If you have questions or need to know if you are dealing with a ethical or reputable lender, send an e-mail and I will attempt to assist you in the order the e-mails are received.

Your Comments and Share with Friends!

 Could This Be The Start Of A Nationwide Trend?

Are Big Banks Bullying Efforts Paying Off or Is Our Court System Scared Of The Tsunami of Mortgage Fraud Cases Smothering Their Dockets?

Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson had headed up investigations on behalf of the Florida attorney general’s office for more than a year into the fraudulent foreclosure practices that had become rampant in the Sunshine State. They issued subpoenas and conducted scores of interviews, building a litany of cases that documented the most egregious abuses.

That is, until the Friday afternoon in May when they were called into a supervisor’s office and forced to resign abruptly and without explanation.

“It just came out of nowhere,” said Edwards, who had worked in the attorney general’s economic crimes section for more than three years. “We were completely stunned.”

Less than a month before they were forced out, a supervisor cited their work as “instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.” Now, Edwards is convinced their sudden dismissals will have “a chilling effect” on those probes into the shoddy foreclosure practices that caused national outrage when they made headlines last fall.

Although similar abuses have occurred throughout the country, they have been particularly rampant in Florida, which was ground zero for the housing bust and is home to a collection of large law firms that were hired by the financial industry to relentlessly churn out foreclosures in recent years. That made the investigations headed by Edwards and Clarkson among the earliest and most closely watched by officials across the country.

A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi declined to comment on what she cited as internal personnel matters but said in an e-mail that the foreclosure investigations remain a top priority.

Before the uproar last fall, Edwards and Clarkson were already investigating the problems plaguing foreclosure filings in the state. Working under then-attorney general Bill McCollum, they created a 98-page presentation entitled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” which detailed such far-ranging problems as fake and forged affidavits and falsified mortgage ownership records.

Their inquiry led them to focus on “foreclosure mill” law firms that were filing foreclosures for their clients at lightning speed, as well as to the practices of other companies in the mortgage industry. It also led to calls from other attorneys general offices across the country that were beginning to scrutinize similar problems.

“We were farther along in our investigation because we had dug a little deeper than anybody else,” Edwards said. “We kept opening up more and more investigations, more and more cases.”

Their work won them accolades. In the evaluation provided by Edwards, a supervisor wrote that the pair had “achieved what is believed to be the first settlement in the United States relating to law firm foreclosure mills” — a multimillion-dollar settlement a month earlier with a Fort Lauderdale firm.

Despite that praise, Edwards and Clarkson said in separate interviews that they sensed a change when Bondi took office in January. Almost immediately, they said, supervisors began to question their findings and demand details about how they were gathering information.

Both women say they were summoned into a meeting on the afternoon of May 20 and told they could either resign or be fired. Either way, they would no longer be employed come 5 p.m. They had to come back over the weekend to pick up their things, they said.

“No two weeks’ notice, no severance, no nothing,” Clarkson said. “I have no idea why it happened.”

Added Edwards, “We didn’t even have a chance to go over our cases with anybody. We were just locked out.”

A spokeswoman for Bondi, Jennifer Krell Davis, said the economic crimes division “continues to actively pursue the investigations into foreclosure law firms.” She said the division’s director, Richard Lawson, is leading the inquiry into one of the state’s largest foreclosure firms and is supervising other cases.

“The division has made these investigations a top priority and will continue to actively pursue all of our investigations into foreclosure law firms,” Davis said in an e-mail, adding that Lawson had assigned 14 attorneys and investigators to work on the cases that belonged to Edwards and Clarkson.

As for their hasty departure, she wrote, “We do not comment on personnel matters. However, the Florida Attorney General’s Office is always striving to make sure that we have the best staff working to serve and protect the people of Florida.”

Edwards and Clarkson, whose dismissals were first detailed this week by The Palm Beach Post, have since opened a private law firm together in South Florida focused largely on foreclosure defense. They expressed doubts about how aggressively the cases they left behind will be pursued, saying the other attorneys in their division are dedicated and hardworking but that each already had a full caseload.

For her part, Clarkson said she worries about the work left undone, the potential misdeeds left undiscovered, even as state and federal officials negotiate a settlement with banks to end some of the worst practices.

“There is so much paperwork that came in due to our subpoenas that I didn’t even get a chance to look at,” she said, adding, “I looked at enough to know that there’s a lot more problems out there.”

By Brady Dennis, Published: July 14
from Washington Post Business

Forwarded by Gold Member Roger Taylor

As the nation’s housing market continues to teeter, the Treasury Department on Thursday penalized three of the nation’s largest banks for subpar performance in administrating a government-sponsored program to modify mortgage loans for distressed homeowners.

As part of a new assessment of mortgage servicers, Treasury officials said they would withhold incentive payments for the three banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — until the problems are resolved. At that point, those payments would be made, a Treasury spokeswoman said.

In May, the three banks received $24 million in incentives as part of the modification program.

The Treasury Department has previously withheld payments from mortgage servicers, but Thursday’s action focused on some of the biggest players in the program. Called the Home

Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, it is voluntary for mortgage servicers. Nearly all of the nation’s largest banks have signed contracts to participate.

The Obama administration has long been criticized as being too easy on the mortgage servicers, and Thursday’s announcement did little to quiet that criticism.

Neil M. Barofsky, who resigned in March as special inspector general for the bank bailout, described the assessments and penalties as a “lost opportunity” to hold lenders more accountable.

“It further reaffirms Treasury’s long-running toothless response to the servicers’ disregard of their contract with Treasury, and by extension, the American taxpayer,” Mr. Barofsky said in an e-mail.

Timothy G. Massad, assistant Treasury secretary, defended the approach. He said the assessments of banks and other mortgage servicers “will serve to keep the pressure on servicers to more effectively assist struggling families.”

“We need servicers to step up their performance to meet the needs of those still struggling,” he said in a statement.

The mortgage servicers were evaluated on a scale of one to three stars during the first quarter on whether they had identified and searched for eligible homeowners; assessed homeowners’ eligibility correctly; and maintained effective program management, governance and reporting.

Bank of America received the lowest grade, one star, on four of seven areas that were evaluated; Wells received one star in three areas; and Chase, in one.

A fourth mortgage servicer, Ocwen Loan Service, was also assessed as needing substantial improvement, but Treasury said it would not withhold payments to Ocwen because it was negatively affected by a large acquisition of mortgages to service.

Six other mortgage servicers were graded as needing moderate improvement. There were no servicers deemed as needing only minor improvement.

Wells Fargo issued a statement saying it was “formally disputing” the Treasury’s findings.
“It paints an unfairly negative picture of our modification efforts and contradicts previous written assessments shared with us by the Treasury,” said spokeswoman Vickee J. Adams, who said the criticisms were dated and did not reflect recent improvements.

Chase said it too had made significant improvements. “The bank respectfully disagrees with the assessment,” the company said in a statement.

Dan B. Frahm, a spokesman for Bank of America, said that the bank was “committed to continually improving our processes to assist distressed homeowners” through the federal modification program and its own internal program. But he added, “We acknowledge improvements must be made in key areas, particularly those affecting the customer experience.”

The modification program was created using $50 billion that was set aside from the bank bailout to help distressed homeowners. The idea was that the Treasury Department would provide incentives to mortgage servicers and investors to modify mortgages for struggling homeowners, rather than foreclose on them.

The administration predicted that three million to four million Americans would benefit, but so far, only 699,053 permanent modifications have been started.

To date, Treasury has spent about $1.34 billion on HAMP. One problem was that the mortgage servicers, at least initially, were not prepared to handle the onslaught of modifications, and homeowners complained that paperwork had been routinely lost and trial modifications had dragged on for months.

by Andrew Martin with New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/business/10hamp.html?_r=1

Not long ago, first-time buyers accounted for 40% of home sales.

Now they’re down to 29% and falling, experts say, as first-time buyers confront a steady accumulation of rising fees, costs, and rates.

This month, fees on most new mortgages will rise by up to 0.50%. In April, fees on small-down-payment mortgages, a first-time buyer favorite, will spike.

Without a house to sell , first-time home buyers have had a field day in the depressed housing market. Until recently, anyway.

A series of new rules, regulations and policies have changed the Click Here for Full Video/Article (Members Only)

WOW! This could be huge. My experience has been borrowers can only get a 30 year loan when the lender has the opportunity to “sell the loan” to Fannie Mae or Freddie and get “reimbursed” the money loaned.

Many local banks have worked with investors by offering “in house” loan products with shorter terms and calls.

Mike Butler

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How might home buying change if the federal government shuts down the housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, the steady favorite of American borrowers since the 1950s, could become a luxury product, housing experts on both sides of the political aisle say.

Interest rates would rise for most borrowers, but urban and rural residents could see sharper increases than the coveted customers in the suburbs.

Lenders could charge fees for popular features now taken for granted, like the ability to “lock in” an interest rate weeks or months before taking out a loan.

Life without Fannie and Freddie is the rare goal shared by the Obama administration and House Republicans, although it will not happen soon. Congress must agree on a plan, which could take years, and then the market must be weaned slowly from dependence on the companies and the financial backing they provide.

The reasons by now are well understood. Fannie and Freddie, created to increase the availability of mortgage loans, misused the government’s support to enrich shareholders and executives by backing millions of shoddy loans.

Taxpayers so far have spent more than $135 billion on the cleanup.

The much more divisive question is whether the government should preserve the benefits that the companies provide to middle-class borrowers, including lower interest rates, lenient terms and the ability to get a mortgage even when banks are not making other kinds of loans.

Douglas J. Elliott, a financial policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Congress was being forced for the first time in decades to grapple with the cost of subsidizing middle-class mortgages. The collapse of Fannie and Freddie took with it the pretense that the government could do so at no risk to taxpayers, he said.

“The politicians would like something that provides a deep and wide subsidy for housing that doesn’t show up on the budget as costing anything. That’s what we had” with Fannie and Freddie, Mr. Elliott said. “But going forward there is going to be more honest accounting.”

Some Republicans and Democrats say the price is too high. They want the government to pull back, letting the market dictate price, terms and availability.

“A purely private mortgage finance market is a very serious and very achievable goal,” Representative Scott Garrett, the New Jersey Republican who oversees the subcommittee that oversees Fannie and Freddie, said at a hearing this week. “No one serious in this debate believes our housing market will return to the 1930s.”

Still, powerful interests in both parties want the government instead to construct a system that would preserve many of the same benefits, with changes intended to minimize the risk of future bailouts. They say the recent crisis showed that the market could not stand on its own.

“The kind of backstop that we have now, if it didn’t exist, we would have had a much more severe recession and a much sharper fall in home values,” said Michael D. Berman, chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents the lending industry.
Hanging in the balance are the basic features of a mortgage loan: the interest rate and repayment period.

Fannie and Freddie allow people to borrow at lower rates because investors are so eager to pump money into the two companies that they accept relatively modest returns.

The key to that success is the guarantee that investors will be repaid even if borrowers default — a promise ultimately backed by taxpayers.

A long line of studies has found that the benefit to borrowers is relatively modest, less than one percentage point. But that was before the Click Here for Full Video/Article (Members Only)

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Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s biggest banks and the largest consumer lender, said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter earnings rose 21 percent, helped by an improving loan portfolio and withdrawals from its capital reserves.

The bank, which is based in San Francisco, earned $3.4 billion, or 61 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, up from $2.8 billion, or 8 cents a share, in the year-earlier period, matching analysts’ forecasts. For the year, Wells Fargo reported net income of $12.36 billion in 2010, compared with $12.28 billion in 2009.
The bank’s full-year revenue fell to $85 billion, however, from $88.7 billion in 2009, as new federal regulations limited the overdraft fees that banks can charge on checking accounts.
Still, compared with the third quarter, the bank generated revenue growth in roughly two-thirds of its businesses.
“As the U.S. economy showed continued signs of improvement, our diversified model continued to perform for our stakeholders, as demonstrated by growth in loans and deposits, solid capital levels and improving credit quality,” John G. Stumpf, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
Despite its heavy hand in the lending industry, which has been hit by losses for three years,

Wells Fargo has quietly emerged from the financial crisis as one of the nation’s strongest banks.
The report from Wells is an important step for the bank as it looks to increase its dividend, which has been stuck at 5 cents for nearly two years.
Wells Fargo Press Release
When the financial crisis struck, Wells, JPMorgan Chase and other industry giants cut dividends as they moved to bolster their capital. Now, two years later, banks are eager to give money back to shareholders — if the government will let them. The Federal Reserve must first complete a second round of bank stress tests, whose results are expected in March.
JPMorgan, which last week reported a $17 billion profit for 2010, has said it hopes to raise its dividend as much as a dollar in the coming months.
Wells Fargo has been more coy about its plans. Mr. Stumpf, in a conference call with investors, said he was eager to raise the dividend.
But Brian Foran, a senior bank analyst with Nomura Securities International, noted, “They historically have been cagey about saying anything before they know it.”
The bank’s dividend outlook has improved on the back of its lending operation.
Wells Fargo picked up new borrowers in the fourth quarter, particularly businesses, and it released $850 million from its reserves, thanks to the improving loan portfolio.
The bank’s provision for credit losses was cut nearly in half, to $2.99 billion in the fourth quarter from $5.91 billion a year earlier.
Shares of Wells Fargo fell 68 cents, or 2.1 percent, on Wednesday, closing at $31.81.
Although the bank’s mortgage shop reported a 19 percent drop in income from 2009, it originated $128 billion in home mortgages in the fourth quarter, up from $94 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009.
“You can see the momentum building as economic activity is returning,” said Marty Mosby, a managing director at Guggenheim Partners.
Yet Wells Fargo still faces problems surrounding its mortgage portfolio.
On Jan. 7, the highest state court in Massachusetts ruled that Wells Fargo and US Bancorp had wrongly foreclosed on two homes, because they could not prove they owned the mortgages.
Regulators in all 50 states have begun investigations into whether hundreds of thousands of foreclosures made in recent years were invalid.
Some banks temporarily suspended foreclosures last year during the controversy.
Wells Fargo officials say they have largely avoided the documentation problems and have decided not to halt foreclosures.
“At the end of the day, the litigation will be less of an impact on Wells Fargo than people fear,” said Lawrence Remmel, a partner at the law firm Pryor Cashman, where he leads the firm’s banking and financial institutions group.
Wells Fargo has also moved to distance itself from litigation over soured loans that banks securitized and sold to investors.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage finance companies, are demanding that Wells Fargo and other big banks buy back loans sold at the height of the mortgage bubble.
In the fourth quarter, the bank recorded a $464 million provision for future mortgage repurchases, up from $370 million in third quarter.
But the bank’s chief financial officer, Howard I. Atkins, said Wednesday that Wells Fargo did not plan to settle its dispute with Fannie and Freddie. Mr. Atkins said the bank’s mortgage securities were of higher quality than those generated by its competitors.
“This is a diminishing issue, not an increasing issue,” Mr. Atkins said in an interview.
Eric Dash contributed reporting.
By Ben Protess
For more: http://nyti.ms/eP7Rd8

Thanks to Nick Capra in Vegas for this very informative and interesting report.

Pass the word and share this one

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Hey Mike,

 The attached report is very good.

88 Page Fraud Assignment Report

(Click Above Link to View / Download)
Even more trouble is coming because, Mers conducted some of their fraudulent assignments to avoid recording fees, now local recorders all over the country are going after them as well.
 
Fraudulent recordings are also considered to be a crime committed directly against the state… so a real can of worms.
 
Now, we’ll see, with all of the hard evidence; will the government support the People, or will they find some way to let the criminals off the hook.
 
The more people that are aware of what’s going on, the harder it is for them to continue committing such blatent crimes
 
 
"…justice should not only be done, 
but should manifestly and undoubtedly 
be seen to be done." 
 
Lord Chief Justice Hewart, CJ 
 
God Bless,
Nick
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and a team of his attorneys fanned across nine counties to sue 10 so-called foreclosure counselors Thursday.
 
Zoeller said it was the next step in his campaign to beef up consumer protection statewide. Last month, the attorney general sued two local for-profit credit counseling companies for what he described as fraudulent practice.
 
Zoeller said his team is also taking a close look at banking behemoths like Chase and Bank of America after word of their representatives "robo-signing," or blindly signing foreclosure documents, tantamount to legal affidavits, on thousands of homeowners nationwide, including a fair number in Indiana.
 
With Lake County Clerk Mike Brown by his side, Zoeller filed a complaint in Lake Circuit Court for an injunction and restitution against Santa Ana, Calif., based Meridian Law Center, run by attorney Kamran Yusuf Malik, for trying to get $2,000 from Sandra Dobson for foreclosure help.
 
"I had way more sense than to send those people any money," said Dobson, from the home she’s owned for 33 years. "I filed a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s office last year because the package they sent me looked fraudulent."
 
According to Zoeller, the 10 companies his investigators and attorneys sued have been taking money from people in financial straits and promising to help them save their homes from foreclosures or lower their mortgage rates.
 
Zoeller said the companies did not register to do business in Indiana, did not obtain $25,000 bonds mandated by the state and violated the Consumer Protection Act and other deceptive practices laws.
 
He accused the companies of having agents who seek targets based on foreclosure filings.
 
"Each of the companies have the same modus operandi," Zoeller said. "They’re preying on people who are in financial trouble."
 
Zoeller said collecting any money in restitution or costs from such companies is difficult, but the action at least sends out a warning to unsuspecting homeowners.
 
Dobson said she was in no financial trouble when she received a glossy, "important looking package" from Meridian Law Center Aug. 24, 2009, and immediately filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. The last time she was in any foreclosure proceedings was more than 25 years ago, Dobson added.
 
Dobson still praised Zoeller and his actions.
 
"I just think it’s wonderful because we’re just little people, and it’s about time somebody steps up to protect little people," she said. "They’re just con artists ripping off people trying to lead a decent life."
 
Zoeller said he is headed to Oregon for a meeting with of the states’ attorneys general to address the "robo-signing" scandal, but he declined to comment on specific cases in Indiana.
 
"Maybe all the documents are correct, but, in my mind, when you sign your name on those papers, you’re signing a legal affidavit."
 
For more on this article:  http://bit.ly/dDkZFO
 
Please Share Your Comments Below

 When most people think of mortgage fraud, they think of a clever borrower conning an unwitting banker into extending him a loan he cannot afford. But this isn’t really how fraud usually works in the mortgage business. According to the FBI, 80% of mortgage fraud is committed by lenders.

 

There are two types of financial outrages: acts that are outrageously illegal, and acts that are, outrageously, legal. Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the rise and fall of Washington Mutual was a rare examination of the former outrage, documenting the pervasive practice of fraud at every level of the now-defunct bank’s business.

All of Washington Mutual’s sketchy practices can be traced back to rampant fraud in its mortgage lending offices. The company repeatedly performed internal audits of its lending practices, and discovered multiple times that enormous proportions of the loans it was issuing were based on fraudulent documents. At some offices, the fraud rate was on new mortgages over 70%, and at yesterday’s hearing, the company’s former Chief Risk Officer James Vanasek described its mortgage fraud as "systemic."

When most people think of mortgage fraud, they think of a clever borrower conning an unwitting banker into extending him a loan he cannot afford.

But this isn’t really how fraud usually works in the mortgage business.

According to the FBI, 80% of mortgage fraud is committed by the lender, so it shouldn’t be surprising that WaMu’s internal audits concluded that its widespread fraud was being "willfully" perpetrated by its own employees. The company also engaged in textbook predatory lending across all of its mortgage lending activities–issuing loans based on the value of the property, while ignoring the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

These findings alone are pretty bad stuff in the world of white-collar crime. For several years, WaMu was engaged in fraudulent lending, WaMu managers knew it was engaged in fraudulent lending, and didn’t stop it. The company was setting up thousands, if not millions of borrowers for foreclosure, while booking illusory short-term profits and paying out giant bonuses for its employees and executives. During the housing boom, WaMu Chairman and CEO Kerry Killinger took home between $11 million and $20 million every single year, much of it "earned" on outright fraud.

But the WaMu scandal gets much worse. WaMu is routinely referred to as a pure mortgage lender, one whose simple business model can be contrasted with the complex wheelings and dealings of Wall Street titans like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. That characterization is grossly inaccurate. WaMu was very heavily engaged in the business of packaging mortgages into securities and marketing them to investors. This is a core investment banking function, something ordinary mortgage banks like WaMu were legally barred from engaging in until 1999, when Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a critical Depression-era reform.

Securitization is immensely profitable, and under the right circumstances, it allows banks to dump risky mortgages off their books at a profit. That’s exactly what WaMu did. Even after internal audits flagged specific loans as fraudulent, WaMu’s securitization shop still went ahead and packaged those exact same loans into securities, and sold them to investors. Knowingly peddling fraudulent securities is a straightforward act of securities fraud, one made all the more severe by the fact that WaMu never told its investors it had sold them securities full of fraudulent loans. The only question now is whether anyone will be personally held accountable for the act.

So far, we’ve got fraud on fraud– but wait!

The WaMu saga actually gets worse still.

When the mortgage market started falling apart, WaMu ordered a study on the likelihood that one if its riskiest mortgage products, the option-ARM loan, would begin defaulting en masse.

The report concluded that, indeed, option-ARMs were about to default like crazy, within a matter of months.

Option-ARMs feature a low introductory monthly payment for a few years, often so low that borrowers actually end up going deeper into debt, despite making their regular payments. After a few years, the monthly payment increases dramatically–sometimes by as much as 400 percent. Suddenly this cheap loan is outrageously unaffordable, and if home prices decline, borrowers are immediately headed for foreclosure.

Now, most would-be homeowners are not very interested in this kind of loan. It seems dangerous, because it is dangerous. So WaMu actively coached its loan officers to persuade skeptical borrowers into accepting this predatory garbage instead of an ordinary mortgage.

This assault on its own borrowers is only half of WaMu’s option-ARM hustle.

For a while, Wall Street investors really liked option-ARMs. They were inherently risky, which meant they were much more profitable, if you ignored the risk that they might someday default, and Wall Street was all too happy to engage in this kind of creative accounting.

But when WaMu conducted its study on looming option-ARM defaults, the prospect of heavy, imminent losses did not convince the company to abandon the business. Instead, WaMu began issuing as many option-ARMs as it could. The idea was to jam as many of these loans into its securitization machine as it could before investors decided to stop buying option-ARM securities altogether.

That means WaMu was knowingly setting up both borrowers and investors for a fall. The company was actually trying to extend loans that it knew would be disastrous for its borrowers–and then selling them to investors that it knew would end up taking heavy losses. Whether or not this constitutes illegal fraud will depend on some technicalities, but it is clearly an act of outrageous deception.

When the securitization markets finally froze up, WaMu got stuck with billions in terrible, terrible loans it had issued, and the company failed spectacularly. One of the few good calls the U.S. government made during the financial crisis was the decision not to extend bailout funds to WaMu, not to save the jobs of its executives, and allow the company to fail. It was seized by the FDIC in late September 2008, and immediately sold to J.P. Morgan Chase, at no cost to taxpayers.

But WaMu’s story is nevertheless rife with implications here for Wall Street reform.

First, regulation matters.

Everything WaMu did could have been stopped not only by an engaged regulator who worried about the company’s bottom line, but by a regulator who cared about consumer protection in any degree whatsoever. WaMu’s regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, didn’t care about either, but it was particularly uninterested in consumer protection rules, because those often conflict with bank profitability.

If we establish a new regulator that is charged only with writing and enforcing consumer protection rules, it won’t worry about how profitable consumer predation might be, it will simply crack down on it. In the process, it could actually protect the company’s bottom line (Salon’s Andrew Leonard has been emphasizing this point for some time).

Second, at yesterday’s hearing, former WaMu Chief Risk Officer James Vanasek acknowledged that his bank would not have been able to wreak so much economic destruction without the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which barred any mixing between complex Wall Street securities dealings and ordinary, plain-vanilla banking. He even went so far as to offer a tepid endorsement for reinstating the law.

A lot of predatory mortgage firms didn’t run their own securitization shops–they sold their loans directly to Wall Street firms, which handled the securitization on their own. So proponents of the Glass-Steagall repeal (most of them employed at one point or another by a major banking conglomerate) argue that the crisis would have occurred with our without the repeal. That argument is basically a distraction, as the WaMu case reveals. Over the course of just a few years, WaMu’s entire mortgage banking operation transformed from a boring, profitable, plain-vanilla enterprise, into a feeding trough for its risky securitization activities. There is simply no way that transformation could have occurred without the lure of easy in-house securitization profits. It is possible to conceive of a mortgage crisis taking place without the repeal of Glass-Steagall, but it is utterly impossible to imagine a mortgage crisis as severe as the one we are still living through.

It will be very surprising if criminal charges are not soon filed against some of WaMu’s former executives. But WaMu isn’t the only bad actor from the financial crisis. This is basically how the entire U.S. mortgage market operated for at least five years. Dozens of lenders who are still active, many of them saved by generous taxpayer bailouts, were engaged in similar activities. There’s only one way to churn out billions of dollars worth of lousy mortgages for several years, and it involves a prolonged campaign of fraud and deception.

 

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