Excessive Default-Related Fees Allegedly Violated Earlier Countrywide Settlement
A mortgage servicing subsidiary of Bank of America Corp. agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it illegally assessed more than $36 million worth of fees against struggling homeowners, in violation of an earlier settlement with the FTC.
"It's clear to us that the Bank of America subsidiary violated the 2010 court order, and as a result, they will have to return all of the money they illegally charged homeowners who were already having trouble paying their mortgages," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
Bank of America subsidiary BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP has already reversed or refunded $28 million worth of improper fees for title and other default-related services charged to homeowners behind on their mortgages. The new settlement requires BAC Home Loans to reverse or refund the remaining $8 million in improper fees.
BAC Home Loans, which did business as Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP before it was acquired by Bank of America in 2008, agreed to the FTC settlement in conjunction with a $25 billion, Global Civil Settlement that Bank of America and the four other largest U.S. banks reached with the U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general to resolve allegations of abusive foreclosure practices.
"Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli deserves enormous credit for leading this massive effort to benefit millions of current and future home owners, and for herding so many state and federal cats into the same agreement," said Chairman Leibowitz. "But this settlement won't be meaningful unless going forward, banks change their behavior and respect the rights of consumers. I am cautiously optimistic that this will be the case."
Mortgage servicers are responsible for the day-to-day management of homeowners' mortgage loans, including collecting and crediting monthly loan payments. Homeowners cannot choose their mortgage servicer. BAC Home Loans, which was merged into Bank of America in June 2011, is one of the nation's largest mortgage servicing companies.
As part of the Global Civil Settlement, the FTC will release all five banks, their subsidiaries, and employees from liability under the FTC Act for loan origination or servicing practices before the Global Settlement.
The FTC's new settlement with BAC Home Loans, part of the FTC's ongoing effort to protect financially distressed consumers, will give some homeowners additional compensation for improper default-related fees that is not included in the Global Civil Settlement.
It stems from an earlier FTC federal court action against Countrywide and its successor, BAC Home Loans, which was resolved with a settlement in June 2010. That settlement required the company to pay a record $108 million to reimburse homeowners whose loans were serviced by Countrywide before it was acquired by Bank of America in July 2008, and who allegedly were overcharged for services, including property inspections, maintenance services, title searches, and foreclosure trustee services. The 2010 settlement also prohibited BAC Home Loans from charging more than a reasonable fee for default-related services, and it required the company to clearly disclose default-related fees on its website.
As a result of the 2010 settlement, an administrator working for the FTC has already mailed 450,177 refund checks to consumers who were harmed by Countrywide's practices.
The FTC alleged that despite the 2010 settlement, BAC Home Loans charged many homeowners fees for default-related services that were illegal or not authorized under their loan documents. The agency also alleged that BAC Home Loans charged fees for title services that were much higher than the maximum $500 disclosed on the company's website. The FTC and BAC Home Loans will file a stipulated order resolving these new allegations, which includes a judgment against the company of $8 million.
To satisfy the $8 million judgment, BAC Home Loans must demonstrate that they have reversed or refunded all of the improperly assessed fees or must reverse or refund such charges within 180 days.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the proposed stipulated consent order and execute the bank liability releases was 4-0.
For more information about the case and the FTC's refund program, see www.ftc.gov/countrywide.
The Federal Trade Commission is a member of the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. For more information on the Task Force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
NOTE: This stipulated order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
(FTC File No. X100036)
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