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New ‘foreclosure abuse’ agreement includes fines penalizing banks

By Reuters
Thursday, February 9, 2012 12:40 EDT
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Protesters demonstrate outside JPMorgan Chase's annual shareholder meeting in downtown Manhattan in 2010. The state of New York sued major US banks on Friday for fraudulently foreclosing on thousands of homeowners in the state in the wake of the nationwide housing crash. (AFP Photo/Mario Tama)
 
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(Reuters) – U.S. banking regulators are using the agreement announced on Thursday between large U.S. banks and state and federal agencies over foreclosure abuses as a vehicle for levying their own fines on banks for problems in their mortgage servicing businesses.

In April 2011 banking regulators reached a deal with 14 banks on the steps they have to take to clean up how they deal with struggling homeowners.

No monetary penalties were announced at the time but on Thursday the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that four large U.S. banks have agreed to pay a penalty of $394 million as part of that settlement.

The banks involved are Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co, the OCC said.

The banks can meet the terms of the penalty through payments they make as part of a larger settlement with state attorneys general and the Justice Department that was announced on Thursday, the OCC said.

Under the agreement the four banks will have three years to make the payment amounts they have agreed to with the OCC.

If they do not, the OCC will then charge the banks a penalty equal to the difference between the total they have agreed to pay and what payments they have actually made as part of the broader state-federal settlement, the OCC said.

“The OCC has worked closely with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies throughout the federal-state foreclosure settlement negotiations,” acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh said in a release.

The OCC said the breakdown of what each bank has agreed to pay is $164 million for Bank of America, $34 million for Citigroup, $113 million for JPMorgan Chase and $83 million for Wells Fargo.

The penalties are the result of mortgage servicing problems that burst into public view in 2010 when government agencies began investigating bank foreclosure practices, including the use of “robo-signers” to sign hundreds of unread foreclosure documents a day.

In April of 2011, 14 mortgage servicers entered into a settlement with the OCC, the Federal Reserve and the now defunct Office of Thrift Supervision on steps that have to be taken to correct and improve their servicing practices, such as providing borrowers with a single point of contact for questions.

The OCC said that Thursday’s announcement was coordinated with the Fed.

(Reporting By Dave Clarke in Washington D.C.; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn)

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