WASHINGTON — Servicers could end up paying millions more toward the $25 billion mortgage settlement under deal terms that require them to review thousands of foreclosures involving members of the military.
As part of the settlement, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. have agreed to conduct a full review to determine whether any servicemembers were foreclosed on in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The banks will have to make minimum payments of $116,785 to any victim of a wrongful foreclosure since Jan. 2006.
"We want 100% of the victims to be identified and compensated and we will leave no stone unturned until that is done," Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, said in a conference call with reporters Friday.
Bank of America already settled similar claims — related to its Countrywide mortgage portfolio — with the Justice Department last year for $20 million, and will eventually pay more. The bank agreed to make the same minimum payment of $116,785 to 157 members of the military to resolve allegations that they were wrongly foreclosed on between 2006 and the middle of 2009, and is continuing to review more recent foreclosures.
"We are now in the process of identifying victims from mid-2009 through 2010, so the total settlement we expect will be well in excess of $20 million," Perez said.
The Justice Department also settled for $2.35 million with Morgan Stanley subsidiary Saxon Mortgage Services Inc., which is also continuing to review loans from 2009 and 2010.
"These settlements, when combined with (Justice Department) settlements with Bank of America and Saxon from last year … means that we will have the vast majority of foreclosures against servicemembers under court-ordered review," Perez said.
In addition to the minimum $116,785 payment, servicemembers will be compensated for lost equity plus interest, and could be entitled to a higher payment for the same violation under the review being conducted as part of the consent orders with banking regulators. Some borrowers may also be receive compensation for "additional harm," with no limit on the total liability, Perez said.
"This issue is born out of really violations of a law that has been around, in some version, since the Civil War," said Beau Biden, the Delaware attorney general who led the settlement negotiations related to the SCRA. "It's guiding light and principle behind that statute was to make sure that when we send warriors to battle, they don't have to worry about what's happening at home."
To ensure consistency with an earlier settlement, JPMorgan Chase has also agreed to provide any victim either his home free and clear of any debt, or the cash equivalent of the full value of the home at the time of the sale, plus compensation for additional harm.
The review will be overseen by the Justice Department's Civil Rights division.
Wells Fargo, Citi and Ally must also conduct a review to determine whether any members of the military were charged more than 6% interest on their loans after filing a valid request to lower the interest rate — a violation of SCRA. Under the terms of the deal, banks will have to refund, with interest, any amount charged in excess of the 6% — plus triple the amount refunded or $500, whichever is larger.
JPMorgan already compensated servicemembers for claims of excessive interest in its earlier settlement.
All four servicers also agreed to pay for additional SCRA training for employees and agents, develop new policies to ensure compliance and repair any negative credit reports damaged by the alleged violations.
The multistate mortgage settlement includes a range of new protections for servicemembers, including expanded eligibility for foreclosure prevention and homeowner assistance programs.
The settlement extends protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to prohibit foreclosures against members of the military, regardless of when their home was purchased, if they were receiving imminent danger pay and stationed away from home. (The law previously only applied to servicemembers who had purchased their home prior to military service.)
The agreement also requires the servicers to provide access to loan modifications for servicemembers who are forced to relocate to a new station. Or, in the event that they have to sell their home at a loss but are ineligible for assistance through the Defense Department, the banks must provide them with short sale agreements and mandatory deficiency waivers.
"I hope this agreement will bring peace of mind to military families that have been struggling with housing-related challenges," said Holly Petraeus, the head of the CFPB's Office of Servicemember Affairs, which also consulted with the Justice Department on this aspect of the settlement.