BAILOUT TO STATE BUDGETS: AZ Uses Housing Settlement Money for Prisons

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Editor’s Comment:

The general consensus is that the homeowner borrowers are simply at the bottom of the food chain, not worthy of dignity, respect or any assistance to recover from the harm caused by Wall Street. Now small as it is, the banks have partially settled the matter by an agreement that bars the states from pursuing certain types of claims conditioned on several terms, one of which was the payment of money from the banks that presumably would be used to fund programs for the beleaguered homeowners without whose purchasing power, the economy is simply not going to revive. Not only are many states taking the money and simply putting it into general funds, but Arizona, over the objection of its own Attorney General is taking the money and applying to pay for prison expenses.

Here is the sad punch line for Arizona. The prison system in that state and others is largely “privatized” which is to say that the state “hired” new private companies created for the sole purpose of earning a profit off the imprisonment of the state’s citizens. Rumors abound that the current governor has a financial interest in the largest private prison company.

The prison lobby has been hard at work ever since privatizing prisons became the new way to get rich using taxpayers dollars. Not only are we paying more to house more prisoners because the laws a restructured to make more behavior crimes, but now our part of the housing settlement is also going to the prisons. Another bailout that was never needed or wanted. Meanwhile the budget of  Arizona continues to rise from incarcerating its citizens and the profiteers (not entrepreneurs by any stretch of the imagination) are getting a gift of more money from the state out of the multistate settlement.

Needy States Use Housing Aid Cash to Plug Budgets

By SHAILA DEWAN

Only 27 states have devoted all their funds from the banks to housing programs, according to a report by Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing group. So far about 15 states have said they will use all or most of the money for other purposes.

In Texas, $125 million went straight to the general fund. Missouri will use its $40 million to soften cuts to higher education. Indiana is spending more than half its allotment to pay energy bills for low-income families, while Virginia will use most of its $67 million to help revenue-starved local governments.

Like California, some other states with outsize problems from the housing bust are spending the money for something other than homeowner relief. Georgia, where home prices are still falling, will use its $99 million to lure companies to the state.

“The governor has decided to use the discretionary money for economic development,” said a spokesman for Nathan Deal, Georgia’s governor, a Republican. “He believes that the best way to prevent foreclosures amongst honest homeowners who have experienced hard times is to create jobs here in our state.”

Andy Schneggenburger, the executive director of the Atlanta Housing Association of Neighborhood-Based Developers, said the decision showed “a real lack of comprehension of the depths of the foreclosure problem.”

The $2.5 billion was intended to be under the control of the state attorneys general, who negotiated the settlement with the five banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally. But there is enough wiggle room in the agreement, as well as in separate terms agreed to by each state, to give legislatures and governors wide latitude. The money can, for example, be counted as a “civil penalty” won by the state, and some leaders have argued that states are entitled to the money because the housing crash decimated tax collections.

Shaun Donovan, the federal housing secretary, has been privately urging state officials to spend the money as intended. “Other uses fail to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the settlement to bring real, concerted relief to homeowners and the communities in which they live,” he said Tuesday.

Some attorneys general have complied quietly with requests to repurpose the money, while others have protested. Lisa Madigan, the Democratic attorney general of Illinois, said she would oppose any effort to divert the funds. Tom Horne, the Republican attorney general of Arizona, said he disagreed with the state’s move to take about half its $97 million, which officials initially said was needed for prisons.

But Mr. Horne said he would not oppose the shift because the governor and the Legislature had authority over budgetary matters. The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest has said it will sue to stop Mr. Horne from transferring the money.


AP Fannie, Freddie and BOA set to Reduce Principal and Payments

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Editor’s Comment:

Partly as a result of the recent settlement with the Attorneys General and partly because they have run out of options and excuses, the banks are reducing principal and offering to reduce payments as well. What happened to the argument that we can’t reduce principal because it would be unfair to homeowners who are not in distress? Flush. It was never true. These loans were based on fake appraisals at the outset, the liens were never perfected and the banks are staring down a double barreled shotgun: demands for repurchase from investors who correctly allege and can easily prove that the loans were underwritten to fail PLUS the coming rash of decisions showing that the mortgage lien never attached to the land. The banks have nothing left. BY offering principal reductions they get new paperwork that allows them to correct the defects in documentation and they retain the claim of plausible deniability regarding origination documents that were false, predatory, deceptive and fraudulent. 

Fannie, Freddie are set to reduce mortgage balances in California

The mortgage giants sign on to Keep Your Home California, a $2-billion foreclosure prevention program, after state drops a requirement that lenders match taxpayer funds used for principal reductions.

By Alejandro Lazo

As California pushes to get more homeowners into a $2-billion foreclosure prevention program, some Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers may see their mortgages shrunk through principal reduction.

State officials are making a significant change to the Keep Your Home California program. They are dropping a requirement that banks match taxpayers funds when homeowners receive mortgage reductions through the program.

The initiative, which uses federal funds from the 2008 Wall Street bailout to help borrowers at risk of foreclosure, has faced lackluster participation and lender resistance since it was rolled out last year. By eliminating the requirement that banks provide matching funds, state officials hope to make it easier for homeowners to get principal reductions.

The participation by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, confirmed Monday, could provide a major boost to Keep Your Home California.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own about 62% of outstanding mortgages in the Golden State, according to the state attorney general’s office. But since the program was unveiled last year, neither has elected to participate in principal reduction because of concerns about additional costs to taxpayers.

Only a small number of California homeowners — 8,500 to 9,000 — would be able to get mortgage write-downs with the current level of funds available. But given the previous opposition to these types of modifications by the two mortgage giants, housing advocates who want to make principal reduction more widespread hailed their involvement.

“Having Fannie and Freddie participate in the state Keep Your Home principal reduction program would be a really important step forward,” said Paul Leonard, California director of the Center for Responsible Lending. “Fannie and Freddie are at some level the market leaders; they represent a large share of all existing mortgages.”

The two mortgage giants were seized by the federal government in 2008 as they bordered on bankruptcy, and taxpayers have provided $188 billion to keep them afloat.

Edward J. DeMarco, head of the federal agency that oversees Fannie and Freddie, has argued that principal reduction would not be in the best interest of taxpayers and that other types of loan modifications are more effective.

But pressure has mounted on DeMarco to alter his position. In a recent letter to DeMarco, congressional Democrats cited Fannie Mae documents that they say showed a 2009 pilot program by Fannie would have cost only $1.7 million to implement but could have provided more than $410 million worth of benefits. They decried the scuttling of that program as ideological in nature.

Fannie and Freddie last year made it their policy to participate in state-run principal reduction programs such as Keep Your Home California as long as they or the mortgage companies that work for them don’t have to contribute funds.

Banks and other financial institutions have been reluctant to participate in widespread principal reductions. Lenders argue that such reductions aren’t worth the cost and would create a “moral hazard” by rewarding delinquent borrowers.

As part of a historic $25-billion mortgage settlement reached this year, the nation’s five largest banks agreed to reduce the principal on some of the loans they own.

Since then Fannie and Freddie have been a major focus of housing advocates who argue that shrinking the mortgages of underwater borrowers would boost the housing market by giving homeowners a clear incentive to keep paying off their loans. They also say that principal reduction would reduce foreclosures by lowering the monthly payments for underwater homeowners and giving them hope they would one day have more equity in their homes.

“In places that are deeply underwater, ultimately those loans where you are not reducing principal, they are going to fail anyway,” said Richard Green of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “So you are putting off the day of reckoning.”

The state will allocate the federal money, resulting in help for fewer California borrowers than the 25,135 that was originally proposed. The $2-billion program is run by the California Housing Finance Agency, with $790 million available for principal reductions.

Financial institutions will be required to make other modifications to loans such as reducing the interest rate or changing the terms of the loans.

The changes to the program will roll out in early June, officials with the California agency said. The agency will increase to $100,000 from $50,000 the amount of aid borrowers can receive.

Spokespeople for the nation’s three largest banks — Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — said they were evaluating the changes. BofA has been the only major servicer participating in the principal reduction component of the program.

Like I said, the loans never made into the “pools”

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Editor’s Comment:

When I first suggested that securitization itself was a lie, my comments were greeted with disbelief and derision. No matter. When I see something I call it the way it is. The loans never left the launch pad, much less flew into a waiting pool of investor money. The whole thing was a scam and AG Biden of Đelaware and Schniedermann of New York are on to it.

The tip of the iceberg is that the note was not delivered to the investors. The gravitas of the situation is that the investors were never intended to get the note, the mortgage or any documentation except a check and a distribution report. The game was on.

First they (the investment banks) took money from the investors on the false pretenses that the bonds were real when anyone with 6 months experience on Wall street could tell you this was not a bond for lots of reasons, the most basic of which was that there was no borrower. The prospectus had no loans because there were no loans made yet. The banks certainly wouldn’ t take the risks posed by this toxic heap of loans, so they were waiting for the investors to get conned. Once they had the money then they figured out how to keep as much of it as possible before even looking for residential home borrowers. 

None of the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code on REMICS were followed, nor were the requirements of the pooling and servicing agreement. The facts are simple: the document trail as written never followed the actual trail of actual transactions in which money exchanged hands. And this was simply because the loan money came from the investors apart from the document trail. The actual transaction between homeowner borrower and investor lender was UNDOCUMENTED. And the actual trail of documents used in foreclosures all contain declarations of fact concerning transactions that never happened. 

The note is “evidence” of the debt, not the debt itself. If the investor lender loaned money to the homeowner borrower and neither one of them signed a single document acknowledging that transaction, there is still an obligation. The money from the investor lender is still a loan and even without documentation it is a loan that must be repaid. That bit of legal conclusion comes from common law. 

So if the note itself refers to a transaction in which ABC Lending loaned the money to the homeowner borrower it is referring to a transaction that does not now nor did it ever exist. That note is evidence of an obligation that does not exist. That note refers to a transaction that never happened. ABC Lending never loaned the homeowner borrower any money. And the terms of repayment intended by the securitization documents were never revealed to the homeowner buyer. Therefore the note with ABC Lending is evidence of a non-existent transaction that mistates the terms of repayment by leaving out the terms by which the investor lender would be repaid.

Thus the note is evidence of nothing and the mortgage securing the terms of the note is equally invalid. So the investors are suing the banks for leaving the lenders in the position of having an unsecured debt wherein even if they had collateral it would be declining in value like a stone dropping to the earth.

And as for why banks who knew better did it this way — follow the money. First they took an undisclosed yield spread premium out of the investor lender money. They squirreled most of that money through Bermuda which ” asserted” jurisdiction of the transaction for tax purposes and then waived the taxes. Then the bankers created false entities and “pools” that had nothing in them. Then the bankers took what was left of the investor lender money and funded loans upon request without any underwriting.

Then the bankers claimed they were losing money on defaults when the loss was that of the investor lenders. To add insult to injury the bankers had used some of the investor lender money to buy insurance, credit default swaps and create other credit enhancements where they — not the investor lender —- were the beneficiary of a payoff based on the default of mortgages or an “event” in which the nonexistent pool had to be marked down in value. When did that markdown occur? Only when the wholly owned wholly controlled subsidiary of the investment banker said so, speaking as the ” master servicer.”

So the truth is that the insurers and counterparties on CDS paid the bankers instead of the investor lenders. The same thing happened with the taxpayer bailout. The claims of bank losses were fake. Everyone lost money except, of course, the bankers.

So who owns the loan? The investor lenders. Who owns the note? Who cares, it was worth less when they started; but if anyone owns it it is most probably the originating “lender” ABC Lending. Who owns the mortgage? There is no mortgage. The mortgage agreement was written and executed by the borrower securing terms of payment that were neither disclosed nor real.

Bank Loan Bundling Investigated by Biden-Schneiderman: Mortgages

By David McLaughlin

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden are investigating banks for failing to package mortgages into bonds as advertised to investors, three months after a group of lenders struck a nationwide $25 billion settlement over foreclosure practices.

The states are pursuing allegations that some home loans weren’t correctly transferred into securitizations, undermining investors’ stakes in the mortgages, according to two people with knowledge of the probes. They’re also concerned about improper foreclosures on homeowners as result, said the people, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The probes prolong the fallout from the six-year housing bust that’s cost Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and other lenders more than $72 billion because of poor underwriting and shoddy foreclosures. It may also give ammunition to bondholders suing banks, said Isaac Gradman, an attorney and managing member of IMG Enterprises LLC, a mortgage-backed securities consulting firm.

“The attorneys general could create a lot of problems for the banks and for the trustees and for bondholders,” Gradman said. “I can’t imagine a better securities law claim than to say that you represented that these were mortgage-backed securities when in fact they were backed by nothing.”

Countrywide Faulted

Schneiderman said Bank of America Corp. (BAC)’s Countrywide Financial unit last year made errors in the way it packaged home loans into bonds, while investors have sued trustee banks, saying documentation lapses during mortgage securitizations can impair their ability to recover losses when homeowners default. Schneiderman didn’t sue Bank of America in connection with that criticism.

The Justice Department in January said it formed a group of federal officials and state attorneys general to investigate misconduct in the bundling of mortgage loans into securities. Schneiderman is co-chairman with officials from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The next month, five mortgage servicers — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. (ALLY) — reached a $25 billion settlement with federal officials and 49 states. The deal pays for mortgage relief for homeowners while settling claims against the servicers over foreclosure abuses. It didn’t resolve all claims, leaving the lenders exposed to further investigations into their mortgage operations by state and federal officials.

Top Issuers

The New York and Delaware probes involve banks that assembled the securities and firms that act as trustees on behalf of investors in the debt, said one of the people and a third person familiar with the matter.

The top issuers of mortgage securities without government backing in 2005 included Bank of America’s Countrywide Financial unit, GMAC, Bear Stearns Cos. and Washington Mutual, according to trade publication Inside MBS & ABS. Total volume for the top 10 issuers was $672 billion. JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual in 2008.

The sale of mortgages into the trusts that pool loans may be void if banks didn’t follow strict requirements for such transfers, Biden said in a lawsuit filed last year over a national mortgage database used by banks. The requirements for transferring documents were “frequently not complied with” and likely led to the failure to properly transfer loans “on a large scale,” Biden said in the complaint.

“Most of this was done under the cover of darkness and anything that shines a light on these practices is going to be good for investors,” Talcott Franklin, an attorney whose firm represents mortgage-bond investors, said about the state probes.

Critical to Investors

Proper document transfers are critical to investors because if there are defects, the trusts, which act on behalf of investors, can’t foreclose on borrowers when they default, leading to losses, said Beth Kaswan, an attorney whose firm, Scott + Scott LLP, represents pension funds that have sued Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) and US Bancorp as bond trustees. The banks are accused of failing in their job to review loan files for missing and incomplete documents and ensure any problems were corrected, according to court filings.

“You have very significant losses in the trusts and very high delinquencies and foreclosures, and when you attempt to foreclose you can’t collect,” Kaswan said.

Laurence Platt, an attorney at K&L Gates LLP in Washington, disagreed that widespread problems exist with document transfers in securitization transactions that have impaired investors’ interests in mortgages.

“There may be loan-level issues but there aren’t massive pattern and practice problems,” he said. “And even when there are potential loan-level issues, you have to look at state law because not all states require the same documents.”

Fixing Defects

Missing documents don’t have to prevent trusts from foreclosing on homes because the paperwork may not be necessary, according to Platt. Defects in the required documents can be fixed in some circumstances, he said. For example, a missing promissory note, in which a borrower commits to repay a loan, may not derail the process because there are laws governing lost notes that allow a lender to proceed with a foreclosure, he said.

A review by federal bank regulators last year found that mortgage servicers “generally had sufficient documentation” to demonstrate authority to foreclose on homes.

Schneiderman said in court papers last year that Countrywide failed to transfer complete loan documentation to trusts. BNY Mellon, the trustee for bondholders, misled investors to believe Countrywide had delivered complete files, the attorney general said.

Hindered Foreclosures

Errors in the transfer of documents “hampered” the ability of the trusts to foreclose and impaired the value of the securities backed by the loans, Schneiderman said.

“The failure to properly transfer possession of complete mortgage files has hindered numerous foreclosure proceedings and resulted in fraudulent activities,” the attorney general said in court documents.

Bank of America faced similar claims from Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who accused the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender of conducting foreclosures without authority in its role as mortgage servicer due improper document transfers. In an amended complaint last year, Masto said Countrywide failed to deliver original mortgage notes to the trusts or provided notes with defects.

The lawsuit was settled as part of the national foreclosure settlement, Masto spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said.

Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon declined to comment about the claims made by states and investors. BNY Mellon performed its duties as defined in the agreements governing the securitizations, spokesman Kevin Heine said.

“We believe that claims against the trustee are based on a misunderstanding of the limited role of the trustee in mortgage securitizations,” he said.

Biden, in his complaint over mortgage database MERS, cites a foreclosure by Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) as trustee in which the promissory note wasn’t delivered to the bank as required under an agreement governing the securitization. The office is concerned that such errors led to foreclosures by banks that lacked authority to seize homes, one of the people said.

Renee Calabro, spokeswoman for Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, declined to comment.

Investors have raised similar claims against banks. The Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System last year sued U.S. Bancorp as trustee for mortgage bonds sold by Bear Stearns. The bank “regularly disregarded” its duty as trustee to review loan files to ensure there were no missing or defective documents transferred to the trusts. The bank’s actions caused millions of dollars in losses on securities “that were not, in fact, legally collateralized by mortgage loans,” according to an amended complaint.

“Bondholders could have serious claims on their hands,” said Gradman. “You’re going to suffer a loss as bondholder if you can’t foreclose, if you can’t liquidate that property and recoup.”

Teri Charest, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp (USB), said the bank isn’t liable and doesn’t know if any party is at fault in the structuring or administration of the transactions.

“If there was fault, this unhappy investor is seeking recompense from the wrong party,” she said. “We were not the sponsor, underwriter, custodian, servicer or administrator of this transaction.”

BAIR: INDUSTRY COULD BE REELING FOR YEARS TO COME

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EDITOR’S NOTE: They report this like $20 billion is a big number. The Banks caused tens of trillions of dollars in damages, stole $13 trillion from investors, stole some $5 trillion worth of property from homeowners who legally still probably own the property but don’t know it, and they are making a big deal out of $20 billion. That number is a rounding error on the real numbers.

 

Foreclosure Fraud Price Tag: $20 Billion

Foreclosure Crisis

First Posted: 06/ 6/11 09:52 PM ET Updated: 06/ 6/11 09:52 PM ET

React

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest mortgage companies are operating on the assumption that they will have to pay as much as $20 billion to resolve claims of widespread foreclosure abuse, an amount four times what they had originally proposed, the top federal official overseeing the discussions told state officials Monday, according to people who participated in the conversation.

Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli told a bipartisan group of state attorneys general during a conference call that he believes the banks have accepted the realization that a wide-ranging settlement to the months-long probes will cost them much more than the $5 billion offer they floated last month, according to officials with direct knowledge of the call. Perrelli said he’s basing his belief on his recent conversations with representatives of the five targeted firms: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

Three unresolved issues remain, these people said. State and federal officials have not agreed on the scope of banks’ release from liability that would accompany such a deal; negotiators continue to hammer out how much of the money pot will be split between restructuring borrowers’ mortgages and bank fines, and officials are not yet near an agreement on how the coalition of state and federal government agencies will monitor and enforce bank behavior in the wake of a settlement agreement.

The settlement talks are the result of state and federal investigations launched last autumn after widespread reports that the five largest mortgage handlers illegally seized the homes of an unknown number of homeowners and improperly accelerated foreclosure proceedings by failing to amass required paperwork, in some cases allegedly lying about it to local judges. Over the past couple months, government officials have been in discussions with the banks to resolve claims of past abuses and set new standards to govern bank dealings with distressed homeowners.

The banks seek a quick resolution, according to sources who have participated in settlement talks, as falling home prices, a continuing high rate of delinquent borrowers, stagnant home sales, rising unemployment and slower economic growth batters bank stocks. Shares of Bank of America, the largest mortgage servicer, hit a two-year low Monday. Citigroup fell more than four percent. The 24-company KBW Bank Index has fallen nearly 11 percent over the past three months.

Top officials in the Obama administration, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have said they want a quick settlement, too. Bank regulator Sheila Bair, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told a Senate panel last month that a settlement must be reached due to “significant” damages the banks face from “flawed mortgage banking processes [that] have potentially infected millions of foreclosures.”

The industry could be reeling for years, Bair warned.

Don’t Ask, Just Cram: It’s Time to Put Mortgage Modifications Back into Judges’ Hands

Don’t Ask, Just Cram: It’s Time to Put Mortgage Modifications Back into Judges’ Hands

By Abigail Field Posted 12:00PM 04/06/11 Columns, Real Estate, Credit

Many state attorneys general, federal law enforcers and regulators say they want big banks to pay for their fraudulent foreclosures and abusive mortgage servicing practices by reducing what borrowers owe them by some $20 billion. That’s the amount the banks allegedly saved by doing a lousy job servicing troubled mortgages. (That math is questionable at best, Yves Smith noted when that figure began making the rounds.)

But the solution to this problem is not a settlement with the banks that mandates principal write-downs. Principals on these loans should be reduced, but it should be done in the most efficient, effective way: Congress should give bankruptcy judges back a power they once had — the right to reduce the principal on a mortgage to the home’s current market value. In other words: Bring back the cram down.

Reducing mortgage principals to homes’ current market value is critical step to healing our economy. First, it would stop many foreclosures because borrowers would be able to afford to keep their homes. Reducing foreclosures would preserve property values and cut back on a big source of the oversupply in the housing market. Moreover, after cram downs, people could more easily sell their homes and move to where jobs are. Sales wouldn’t be “short” anymore. Finally, in a post-cram-down America, people would have more disposable income, which would allow discretionary consumer spending to rise.

Why Voluntary, Bank-Run Modification Programs Fail

So why shouldn’t regulators simply include write downs in the settlement between law enforcement and the banks? Because the Home Affordable Modification Program has shown that any system that relies on banks to chose among borrowers and design their modifications will fail. Back in the 1980s, this country experienced a similar failure of voluntary programs to solve a huge problem with underwater mortgages triggered by the popping of an agricultural real estate bubble.

As the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland explained in its analysis of what happened then to family farms:

“Many farmers, like many homeowners now, were in danger of losing their primary residences, with little prospect of relief under the bankruptcy options available to farmers at that time….

Moratoriums on foreclosures in a number of farm states slowed the rising tide of farm foreclosures somewhat, but they provided only a temporary reprieve as the fundamental economic factors … left many farmers unable to service their existing debt and with almost no possibility of renegotiating their secured loans with creditors….

…voluntary modification efforts, even when subsidized by the government, did not lead agricultural lenders to negotiate loan modifications.”

That phrase “with little prospect of relief under the bankruptcy options available” is key. Our current bankruptcy laws allow debtors in bankruptcy to force banks to reduce the principal on most loans secured by property to the current market value of that property, but not all.

For example, if a debtor owes $500,000 on a yacht that’s now worth $300,000, the debtor can keep the yacht by paying every penny of the $300,000, and as much of the rest as the bankruptcy process allows. Ditto for a limo. More to the point, bankruptcy judges can “cram down” the principal on mortgages securing vacations homes and investment properties — but for the most common mortgage of all, the one securing the loan on a person’s primary residence, they cannot.

A Solution That Has Worked Before

At least, not anymore. Home mortgages could be crammed down nationwide until 1978, when Congress changed the rules. Even after that, thanks to disagreement among courts on how to interpret the rule change, they could be crammed down in some parts of the country until a 1993 Supreme Court decision ended the practice completely.

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In the 1980s, the Cleveland Fed explained, the bankruptcy code didn’t let allow family farm mortgages to be crammed down either. But when voluntary programs failed, Congress created special bankruptcy law provisions to authorize farm cram downs. Then, as now, reported the Cleveland Fed, the banks warned of financial doomsday, saying cram downs “would flood bankruptcy courts, permit abuse by borrowers who could afford to pay their loans, and reduce the availability of credit, among other things.” None of those things happened.

Instead, the cram down law “worked without working”: It was rarely used actively, but banks sustainably modified mortgages anyway. As soon as borrowers had leverage — negotiating with the threat of a cram down behind them — banks started cutting meaningful deals.

To be fair to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives, it passed a cram down bill in 2009. But the Senate failed to get the job done, as President Obama and some powerful groups like MoveOn.org and labor unions largely sat that fight out.

How Banks Beat Back Cram Downs

What was the argument that the banking lobby used to kill the bill?

Surely it wasn’t the claptrap about “moral hazard.” Unlike the banks and their executives bailed out by the taxpayers, homeowners aren’t “encouraged” by a principal reduction “bailout” to make increasingly risky, self-interested decisions, secure in the knowledge the the government will save their bacon if it falls in the fire again. That’s behavior by bankers is a real and present hazard to our financial system.

The only specific “hazard” the anti-principal mod lobby mention is that borrowers who are current will default to get mortgage modifications. There’s one big problem with that claim: Mortgage servicers have routinely been telling borrowers who are current that they will have default before they can get help. These are borrowers who were blowing through their savings struggling to stay current on their underwater mortgages, and were reaching out before default to work something out with their banks — responsible borrowers.

The practice of telling these people to default before a modification could even be discussed has become so common that both the state attorneys general’s proposed settlement with mortgage servicers and the banks’ much weaker counteroffer address the issue. This alone makes a mockery of any potential argument about the bad moral consequences of allowing judges to make principal modifications.

And doing the reductions via the bankruptcy code also reduces any incentive to default to get help. Borrowers don’t — and shouldn’t — take bankruptcy lightly.

Fears of Another Financial Industry Meltdown

So what was the argument the bank lobby really used to kill the cram down bill in 2009? I don’t know, but one type of financial doomsday lurks in the background now that didn’t in the 1980s: Bank Bailout II. Mortgage principal write downs in large numbers could push some big banks over the edge — or force them to reveal their present insolvency.

The question is whether enough consumers to bring on that dreaded scenario are willing to face the long, punitive process that is bankruptcy to get mortgage principal write-downs. That begs a second question: If large numbers of write downs led banks to demand another bailout, would they get it? Both are impossible to answer, but the gains are well worth the risks.

If restoring the cram down induces a consumer-bankruptcy-driven financial system failure, that’s an important reality check. The nation would have to face the fact that TARP had failed to get the job done, and that it was time to either fix the big banks’ balance sheets for real, or shut them down. It would prove that we can’t continue to engage in policy theater such as HAMP or leaving mortgage modifications to the discretion of lenders.

Whatever the outcome for banks, Washington needs to suck it up and start instituting good policy.

See full article from DailyFinance: http://srph.it/gagyj1

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