Bank of America, which bought Countrywide Financial for $4 billion in stock in early 2008, has come under pressure from the Massachusetts Attorney General, as a result of Countrywide’s notorious lending practices. Bank of America’s move is part of an agreement to settle claims over certain high-risk loans made by Countrywide. See link to Wall Street Journal article.
Bank of America’s program is limited to Countrywide borrowers whose loan balance is at least 120% of the estimated home value, who are at least 60 days overdue, and who can show that financial hardship makes them unable to meet current payments. The bank estimated that 45,000 customers will qualify for principal reductions averaging more than $60,000. In the end, only the riskiest loans will be eligible. They include sub-prime loans; "option adjustable-rate" mortgages entailing minimal payments now but big increases later; and certain loans that have a fixed rate for two years and then adjust annually.
Any thought that principal reduction is the path the lenders are heading in should consider the limited scope of the agreement between Bank of America and the Massachusetts Attorney General. Nonetheless, the action by Bank of America is notable because it is the largest mortgage servicer, collecting loan payments on one of every five home loans in the U.S. At the end of last year, 14.76% of them were at least 30 days past due or in foreclosure, versus an industry average of 12.31%, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.
Principal reduction is clearly the direction that the large majority of underwater borrowers clearly are hoping the major banks are leaning towards. Given that lenders must incur substantial costs in foreclosing, only to take a wash when they sell the foreclose property as a Real Estate Owned property, it only seems practical to try and keep people in their homes by reducing the principal. I have seen many properties where the bank ended up selling a foreclosed property for substantially less than they would have made had they just worked with the homeowner. No one claims that reason is driving this ship.