Elizabeth M. Lynch, a lawyer at MFY Legal Services
(a New York City organization that provides free civil legal aid) writes in The New York Times
on one big loophole the banksters scored for themselves when picking the
Feds' bones clean during the foreclosure fraud settlement negotiations, and that she describes as a "backdoor mechanism to continue foreclosures at the same pace as before
- The problem involves second mortgages, which millions of homeowners took out during the housing bubble. It’s estimated that as much as a quarter of all mortgage debt in the United States is in the form of second mortgages. Some of these loans were taken out to finance home improvements; others were part of a subprime product known as an “80/20 mortgage,” in which 80 percent of the purchase price was covered by a first, adjustable-rate mortgage, and the remainder by a second mortgage, often with a much higher interest rate.
The second mortgages have given the banks a loophole: each dollar a bank forgives goes toward fulfilling its obligation under last year’s settlement. But many lenders have made it a point to almost exclusively modify secondary loans while all but ignoring the troubled, larger primary mortgages.
It’s a real problem: when it comes to keeping your home, it’s the first mortgage that counts.
Take Tiberio Toro, a Queens resident who took out an 80/20 mortgage in 2006 when he purchased his home, and who now owes far more to the bank than his house is currently worth. Recently, Wells Fargo told him that it completely forgave his second loan. But at the same time, it declined to modify his first mortgage — an adjustment Mr. Toro needs to get his monthly payment to a level he can afford.
Why would a bank forgive a second mortgage completely but move forward with foreclosure on the first mortgage?
Surprisingly, such a tactic often makes sense for banks. When a lender forecloses on a first mortgage, the house in question is typically sold at auction. If the house is worth less than the loan amount, the bank gets only part of its money back. But after the sale, of course, there’s no asset left to pay off any of the second loan. The holder of that second loan — which has lower priority than the holder of the first — gets nothing.
So a lender can forgive a second mortgage — which in the event of foreclosure would be worthless anyway — and under the settlement claim credits for “modifying” the mortgage, while at the same time it or another bank forecloses on the first loan. The upshot, of course, is that the people the settlement was designed to protect keep losing their homes.
The five banks covered under last year’s settlement are wiping out second mortgages in record numbers. In New York State, for example, during the first six months of the settlement period, three times as many homeowners received second-mortgage forgiveness (2,933) as received permanent modifications on first mortgages (967).
In New York State, 36.2 percent of the banks’ credits under the settlement have been related to second loans, compared with only 18.2 percent for first mortgages.
In 2011, the five banks that are subject to last year’s settlement sent 230,678 pre-foreclosure notices to New York State homeowners, according to data I obtained from the Finance Department through the Freedom of Information Law.