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U.S. banks to pay $8.5 billion to end foreclosure reviews

A woman uses an ATM inside a Citi bank branch in New York August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A woman uses an ATM inside a Citi bank branch in New York August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of 10 mortgage servicers agreed on Monday to pay a total of $8.5 billion to end a U.S. government-mandated case-by-case review of housing crisis foreclosures in an acknowledgement the program had proven too cumbersome and expensive.

Roughly 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure within the time frame of the review will receive cash compensation ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, depending on the type of errors they experienced, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said.

The reviews followed the "robo-signing" scandal that emerged in 2010 involving allegations banks pursued faulty foreclosures by using defective or fraudulent documents.

Bank of America Corp , Citigroup Inc , JPMorgan Case & Co , Wells Fargo & Co , MetLife Bank , and five others will pay $3.3 billion directly to eligible borrowers, and $5.2 billion in loan modifications and forgiveness, regulators said.

The OCC and the Federal Reserve Board said they accepted the agreement to get relief to consumers more quickly than through the reviews.

In April 2011, the government required the servicers to review foreclosure actions from 2009 and 2010 to determine whether borrowers had been unlawfully foreclosed on or suffered some other financial harm due to errors in the foreclosure process.

Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said in a statement: "It has become clear that carrying the process through to its conclusion would divert money away from the impacted homeowners and also needlessly delay the dispensation of compensation to affected borrowers."

The agreement announced Monday resolves matters left unsettled by a $25 billion deal that the top five servicers reached last February with the Justice Department, housing authorities and state attorneys general to end an investigation into foreclosure practices including robo-signing.

Those authorities had taken a broad approach to dealing with allegations of robo-signed documents and faulty foreclosures, while the bank regulators had initially opted for the more targeted, individual reviews.

Bank of America said it supports the new approach "because it expands the number of borrowers who will receive payment, speeds the delivery of those payments, and will provide support for homeowners still struggling to make payments."

MetLife said it was fully cooperating with the OCC review process and said its portion of the settlement was $37 million.

The other servicers said they were pleased to reach the settlement.

Regulators said the agreement replaces the case-by-case reviews with a broader framework, which allows borrowers to receive compensation regardless of whether they faced actual harm.

Instead the payouts will be based on whether a borrower falls into one of 11 categories, ranging from whether the person was eligible for protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, whether the borrower was not in default, or whether he or she was denied a loan modification, for example.

The other banks involved in the settlement are: Aurora , PNC , Sovereign , SunTrust , and U.S. Bank .

Regulators are continuing negotiations whether four other servicers, and are also expected to enter into similar settlements with them.

At least one lawmaker expressed disappointment in the settlement. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight said he had serious concerns that the deal "may allow banks to skirt what they owe and sweep past abuses under the rug without determining the full harm borrowers have suffered."

On Friday Cummings and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to the agencies requesting a briefing on the settlement.

(The story adds dropped letter in para four)

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha in Washington and Anna Sussman in New York; Editing by John Wallace, Jeffrey Benkoe and Andrew Hay)

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