published Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Personal Finance: Mortgage accord a win for big banks

Chris Hopkins

The mortgage settlement among the five biggest U.S. banks and 49 state attorneys general was announced with much fanfare last week. Ostensibly aimed at providing relief to beleaguered homeowners and restoring confidence in the home lending process, the deal is not likely to have much impact on either objective.

However, the financial institutions that were signatories to the agreement are probably laughing all the way to, well, to the bank.

When the action was commenced in 2010, state regulators sought to hold the large lenders accountable for the robo-signing scandal and other illegal or unfair practices perpetrated against delinquent borrowers.

What ultimately emerged was an agreement that limits the recompense due from the banks for botching the foreclosure process, and a commitment to modify some outstanding mortgages that would ultimately be foreclosed on or written down in any event. It is ironic that the primary

beneficiary may still be the financial institutions.

Part of the deal mandates $1.5 billion from the banks as payment to former borrowers who were victims of illegal or improper actions resulting in their foreclosure. This relief is available to 750,000 claimants. The net result is that the liability for bad behavior in the collection process has been established and limited to $2,000 per family.

The more interesting wrinkle lies in the agreement to write-down mortgage balances. The target for principal reduction in home loans that are past due or in serious jeopardy of imminent default is $10 billion. The vast majority of these loans are first mortgages, but few are actually owned by the banks. While the banks (and their mortgage-lending subsidiaries like Countrywide) set up the loans, most were securitized and sold to private investors and mutual funds.

The banks continue to function as servicing and administrative agents, with some authority to amend loan terms. The principal reductions themselves may well come at the expense of pension plans and retirement funds that own the mortgage bonds, not from the banks that originated them.

Here is where it gets interesting. While the banks own few of the first mortgages, they hold a ton of second mortgages written during the boom in the form of home equity lines of credit. Ordinarily, under established law, first mortgage holders must be repaid in full before any benefits accrue to second lien holders. However, by obtaining a principal reduction in their first mortgage, homeowners are much more likely to repay the second note as well, a clear benefit to the banks that made the second loans at the expense of the first priority mortgage holders.

And by the way, the largest mortgage holders (Fannie Mae and Feddie Mac), who hold 56 percent of all the outstanding loans, are excluded from the settlement.

For homeowners, the result will be uninspiring. The $20 billion in commitments over three years shrinks into insignificance compared with the estimated $700 billion in negative equity in the U.S. housing market. For that problem, only time can help. But for the banks, looks like a pretty good deal.

Get answers to financial questions on Wednesdays from our columnists who work in the financial services industry. Christopher A. Hopkins CFA, is a vice president at Barnett & Co. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
tylercarrierez said...

When you have had your mortgage for a long time, it is not a good idea to Refinance, let me stress again, DO NOT refinance if you have your mortgage for long time, to avoid mistakes, use 123 Refinance articles.

February 15, 2012 at 1:27 a.m.
leiasarratt said...

Canada Goose Jackets Online | Canada Goose Jacket Sale | Cheap Canada Goose Jacket | Canada Goose Jackets Online | Canadagoose Canada Goose Femme Shop Canada Goose Canada Goose Sale Online Canada Goose Outerwear Parka Canada Goose

February 15, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
funditfastdan said...

If you've owned and paid into your mortgage for a long time it is not recommended to refinance back into a 30 yr loan, but that is not the only option. If your rate is at 5.5% on a 30yr loan and your 8-10 yrs into it, you can shorten your term to 15 yrs. and obtain a 3.375% rate. That is over a 2% drop and 5-7 years off your loan, and is most cases you may not have any increase in monthly payment with that type of rate decrease. Expand your thinking to make it work to your advantage!!

February 15, 2012 at 11:55 p.m.
Mila78 said...

Refinancing a mortgage sometimes is a good idea, but not always. Now lots of banks offer low interest rates mortgages to attract more consumers, it's a pity, but it happens quite often when people take a mortgage question lightly. It's important to make sure if you deal with a trustwothy bank and how much you will pay, because payments may seem small but all together they will make a sume that you can not afford. To avoid a foreclosure process it's important to know what you can do to choose the best deal and watch what is going on at the mortgage market.

August 2, 2012 at 5:06 a.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »


Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.