Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Foreclosure Crisis: The real story

This is getting bigger and bigger because it could crash our economy again. Seriously:
AP: Officials in 50 states and the District of Columbia have launched a joint investigation into allegations that mortgage companies mishandled documents and broke laws in foreclosing on hundreds of thousands of homeowners … will examine whether mortgage company employees made false statements or prepared documents improperly … Employees of four large lenders have acknowledged in depositions that they signed off on foreclosure documents without reading them.
Here’s a more simple explanation, Huffington Post:

Let’s straighten some facts out first. Lenders aren’t just making “mistakes”—they’re fabricating documents, forging signatures and lying to judges in order to illegally throw people out of their homes and slap them with thousands of dollars in illegal fees. Banks are resorting to fraud for a reason—they don’t have the documents that prove they have the right to foreclose. It’s not like JPMorgan Chase or GMAC need to dig through a filing cabinet to find the right form—the form doesn’t exist. Banks willfully, knowingly destroyed key documentation in order to cut costs and boost bonuses.

Other banks that bundled these mortgages into complex securities didn’t ask for
this documentation for the same reasons. This creates legal liabilities for the banks that can push them into failure. A lot of these securities were packed with fraudulent mortgages—loans where banks falsified borrower information in order to push them into predatory loans. Investors who brought these mortgages have been trying to force banks to repurchase the fraudulent loans. But now that banks cannot even document which loans they own, the entire fraudulent mortgage securitization framework may land on the banks' doorstep. If that happens, we’re going to see some very big banks go under.

What does all this mean for borrowers? We’ve already seen plenty of cases in which banks are foreclosing on the wrong homes—kicking out borrowers who haven’t missed any payments, or borrowers who are working with the bank on receiving a loan modification to keep them in their homes. But even for borrowers who have stopped paying their mortgages, the fraud process creates serious dangers. Banks charge all kinds of fees on borrowers when they foreclose—fees that often amount to thousands of dollars. The current wave of fraud is enabling an onslaught of grotesque, illegal fees. When you create new documents and forge signatures, you can claim people agreed to ridiculous things they never agreed to, tell ridiculous lies about the house being foreclosed on, and generate thousands of dollars in improper fees.

And in the ultimate example of the Randian free marketplace:

In other words, banks and their lawyers are breaking the law to steal from borrowers facing financial hardship. This impropriety may create losses so big that megabanks are going to fail. Smart political leaders need to get out there right now and prove that they are backing American families, not Wall Street elites.

A foreclosure moratorium is the first step, the second is a major new initiative to reduce mortgage debt to a level that borrowers can afford—that prevents foreclosures and keeps this mess from spiraling into a financial calamity. The mortgage market needs to reflect economic reality, not inflated banker dreams.

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