Everyone in the country gets to pay for the $700 billion Hank Paulson slush fund, and if you’re a Countrywide customer in good standing you get to pay some more.
Washington residents who got mortgages through Countrywide and who already lost their homes to foreclosure will be eligible for money, said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who will discuss the settlement this morning at a news conference.
“This is a very large and important first step in helping to stop the cycle,” McKenna said. “We are going to put the brakes on that downward spiral.”
McKenna said Countrywide used predatory lending practices similar to those found in investigations of other large lenders across the country. They issued loans to people who couldn’t afford them by falsely inflating borrowers’ incomes, used hidden fees and made deceptive marketing claims, saying, for example, a loan had “no closing costs,” when borrowers were actually paying closing costs.
To be honest, at least this plan actually seems to be addressing the heart of the problem, namely bad mortgages caused by a combination of ARM’s, industry fraud and overreaching by home buyers during a bubble.
You can call this situation a lot of things, but you can’t call it free market capitalism. Someone always has to pay, and the money for this plan appears to be coming from Countrywide customers and Bank of American customers. (As an aside, it’s a curious fact that consumers are allowed no choice about whom to do business with when it comes to home loans, no? They just buy your loan and you get no say.)
The details of the plan seem to make sense, but are still maddening:
Rates could decline to 2.5 percent, depending upon a borrower’s ability to pay, and remain at that level for five years. Then the rate would adjust to prevailing interest rates charged by Fannie Mae on its fixed-rate mortgages.
The program will focus on borrowers placed in the riskiest loans, including adjustable-rate mortgages whose interest rates reset significantly several years after the loans were made.
Pay-option mortgages, under which a borrower must pay only a small fraction of the interest and principal, thereby allowing the loan balance to increase, are also included in the modifications.
Borrowers whose first payment was due between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2007, can participate. The loan balance must be at least 75 percent of the current value of the home, and the borrower must be able to afford the adjusted monthly payments.
So the reward for resisting outrageously risky ARM’s and paying your mortgage on time is that you get to enjoy severe declines in the stock market, including IRA’s and 401(k) plans, decline in the amount of equity in your home, a shaky job market and higher prices for everyday items like food and fuel.
Now, I know not everyone is impacted equally. There are plenty of folks out there who don’t have much in the way of savings and investments, and an Obama administration and a “more and better” Congress will need to look hard at issues like real wages. In bad economic times, the working poor always take it in the shins.
Sadly, there’s really little choice in the matter of Countrywide. The politicians, though, will have to forgive we plebeians if we’re wondering why our families don’t get a special low interest rate and maybe some principal knocked off our mortgage. Hell, we’d settle for a nice four-figure contribution to the old college fund, which is looking rather battered at the moment.
Some people might be concluding that paying on a loan is a sucker’s game. Not my family, of course, because we believe in old-fashioned progressive values like honesty and personal responsibility, but there is a palpable sense of frustration out on the hustings. Our government and large portions of corporate America need to clean up their act, big time.