Virginia Joins Countrywide Settlement

Call it the bandwagon effect. Attorney General Bob McDonnell announced in a press release Tuesday that Virginia will take part in a nationwide settlement agreement with Countrywide Financial Corporation — Virginia is the the latest of many states looking to get their piece of the pie over alleged predatory lending practices at Countrywide. “The settlement resolves any potential consumer protection claims the Attorney General could have filed alleging deceptive practices arising out of the mortgage origination or servicing activities of Countrywide in Virginia,” the press release said. The settlement will provide about $8.4 billion in home loan and foreclosure relief to as many as 397,000 homeowners across the country, including projected relief of $212.8 million for more than 8,900 homeowners in Virginia, according to the office of the attorney general. “This settlement will provide crucial financial relief to thousands of Virginians who are struggling each month to pay their mortgages and keep their homes,” Attorney General McDonnell said. “I hope this settlement will serve as a model for other mortgage lenders to follow as they develop plans to help homeowners facing foreclosure.” Under the settlement, Countrywide and its affiliates agree to modify loans for eligible borrowers — those who received either a qualifying subprime adjustable rate mortgage or a Pay Option adjustable rate mortgage prior to Dec. 31, 2007 and who meet other specific requirements — in an effort to keep people in their homes. Depending on the loan type, modifications may include an automatic freeze or reduction in interest rates, conversion to fixed-rate loans, or refinancing or reduction of the principal owed, according to the press release. Virginia will receive approximately $2.5 million, according to the statement, of the $150 million Countrywide has allotted for a Foreclosure Relief Payment Program for certain borrowers who have already lost their homes or are at least 120 days delinquent. The settlement also calls for Countrywide to pay up to $70 million nationwide for relocation assistance to borrowers who do not qualify for a loan modification and who subsequently face foreclosure. Virginia’s projected portion of these payments is estimated at $2.3 million. Icing on the cake; Virginia will additionally receive an estimated $3.3 million in waivers —  prepayment penalties, late/delinquency fees and default fees otherwise due, the release said. Countrywide first announced the loan modification program on Oct. 6, as part of a settlement with 15 different state Attorneys General that had sued the lender over predatory lending charges. An announcement was made Wednesday that yet another group, made up of Washington homeowners, filed a lawsuit against Countrywide, claiming the mortgage giant illegally rigged the appraisal process “in a scheme to boost profits at the expense of homeowners and independent appraisers.” The group has claimed that Countrywide forces homeowners to use its wholly owned subsidiary LandSafe, for appraisals. “The company then turns around and subcontracts the work to independent appraisers while charging homeowners as much as 200 percent the actual cost of the appraisal,” the press release said. Write to Kelly Curran at Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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