The Federal Trade Commission settled charges against two Countrywide mortgage servicing companies for $108 million, which is one of the largest judgments imposed in an FTC case, and the largest mortgage servicing case. The funds will be used to reimburse overcharged homeowners whose loans were serviced by Countrywide before it was acquired by Bank of America in July 2008. Copies of the complaint and consent judgment and order are attached.
According to the complaint filed by the FTC, Countrywide ordered property inspections, lawn mowing, and other property preservation services. But rather than simply hire third-party vendors to perform the services, Countrywide created subsidiaries to hire the vendors. The subsidiaries marked up the price of the services charged by the vendors – often by 100% or more – and Countrywide then charged the homeowners the marked-up fees.
In addition, in servicing loans for borrowers trying to save their homes in Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, the complaint charges that Countrywide made false or unsupported claims to borrowers about amounts owed or the status of their loans. Countrywide also failed to tell borrowers in bankruptcy when new fees and escrow charges were being added to their loan accounts. The FTC alleges that after the bankruptcy case closed and borrowers no longer had bankruptcy court protection, Countrywide unfairly tried to collect those amounts, including in some cases via foreclosure.
The FTC’s complaint and settlement order name two mortgage servicers as defendants: Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. and BAC Home Loans Servicing LP, formerly doing business as Countrywide Home Loans Servicing LP. The settlement requires Countrywide to pay $108 million, which will be refunded to borrowers whom Countrywide allegedly overcharged before July 2008.
The defendants continue to service millions of mortgage loans, including tens of thousands of loans involving borrowers in bankruptcy and foreclosure. In the servicing of loans, the defendants are permanently barred from:
- Making false or unsubstantiated representations about loan accounts, such as amounts owed.
- Charging any fee for a service unless it is authorized by the loan instruments, by law, or by the consumer for a specific service requested by the consumer.
- Charging any fee for a default-related service unless it is a reasonable fee charged by a third party for work actually performed. If the service is provided by an affiliate of a defendant, the fee must be within limits set by state law, investor guidelines, and market rates. Defendants must obtain annual, independent market reviews of their affiliates’ fees to ensure that they are not excessive.
In addition, Countrywide must advise consumers if it intends to use affiliates for default-related services and, if so, provide a fee schedule of the amounts charged by the affiliates.
The settlement also requires Countrywide to make significant changes to its bankruptcy servicing practices. For example, Countrywide must send borrowers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy a monthly notice with information about what amounts the borrower owes – including any fees assessed during the prior month. The defendants also must implement a data integrity program to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data they use to service loans in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
This case was brought with the assistance of the United States Trustee Program, the component of the Department of Justice that oversees the administration of bankruptcy cases and private bankruptcy trustees.
Ralph T. Wutscher
Kahrl Wutscher LLP
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