It took over a year for lawmakers and state AGs to agree to the terms of the $26 billion foreclosure settlement announced this week, and it could take up to another three years for eligible homeowners to see a share of that money. But the deal does mean that, for the first time, many distressed homeowners can take steps toward getting some tangible relief.
First, the basic terms of the settlement: Under the deal, $20 billion will be allocated to principal reductions and mortgage refinance assistance, and $1.5 billion to homeowners who were improperly foreclosed upon — victims of the so-called robo-signing scandal. About 1 million homeowners will qualify for principal reductions of up to $20,000, and some 750,000 who were foreclosed upon between January 2008 and December 2011 will receive $1,500 to $2,000 checks. The rest of the settlement will be distributed to the states and federal government for foreclosure prevention programs.
So, how do you know if you qualify for some element of the relief under the settlement? And how do you claim your share? It depends on which bank services your loan and where you live. We’ll break it down.
Which mortgage companies are included in the settlement?
Only loans serviced by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Ally Financial are eligible under this settlement. That’s no small number: According to Inside Mortgage Finance, these five banks manage payments for more than half of all U.S. mortgages, a total about 25 million. Only a small percentage of these loans will qualify for the settlement, however, and exactly which ones is still being determined because of the complexity of the agreement. (If you live in Oklahoma, by the way, you’re out of luck; yours was the only state not to agree to this settlement.)
How do I know who “services” my mortgage?
Your mortgage servicer is the company you make your payment to each month. Often loans are handled by a third-party servicer that doesn’t actually own the mortgage. If your mortgage is owned by one of these banks but not serviced by them, you do not qualify. Government officials are encouraging customers to reach out to the banks to find out if they may be eligible. The banks can be contacted at the following numbers:
- Ally/GMAC: 800-766-4622
- Bank of America: 877-488-7814
- Citigroup: 866-272-4749
- JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901
- Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212
What if my loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?
These mortgages do not qualify under the terms of the settlement. You can find out if your loan is with either of these lenders by looking up your loan at www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup or www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage
I think I qualify — now what?
You’ll need to be patient. The banks have up to three years to distribute these funds, though it’s expected they will start reaching out to borrowers in the coming weeks. Over the next one to two months, administrators will be picked to handle the distribution of the settlement, and they will have six to nine months to determine which borrowers will get help — at which point banks will send out letters to affected borrowers.
What if I want to refinance?
Only borrowers whose homes are underwater — meaning they owe more than their home is worth — and who are current on their loan payments will qualify for the refinance program. Banks will send information to homeowners in the coming weeks if they qualify.
What if I want a principal reduction?
It’s not yet clear who will qualify for principal deductions, but homeowners will have to be at “imminent risk” of defaulting on either a first or second mortgage. In addition, loans that are both owned and serviced by the five banks will most likely qualify first. If you believe you are in this category, contact your banks for further details.
What if I need help now and my home was already foreclosed on?
If your home was foreclosed on between 2008 and 2011, claim forms will be mailed to you. But if you think you may be hard to locate, you can file a claim with your state attorney general. Find a contact for your state here.
The goal of the settlement is to streamline these payments and get assistance to homeowners sooner rather than later. A website has been set up for homeowners to learn more about the settlement details and who may potentially qualify.
In addition, the government is also hoping to reach a similar agreement with nine other banks. The settlement will hopefully help to create a new standard for mortgage regulation. Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said when announcing the deal that there will be “No more lost paperwork, no more excuses, no more runaround” in the future. Amen.