On March 12, the foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials was filed in federal court, and it is now awaiting a judge’s all-but-certain approval. The next day, the Federal Reserve announced the much-anticipated results of the latest round of bank stress tests.
How did the banks do on both? Pretty well, thank you — and better than homeowners and American taxpayers.
That is not only unfair, given banks’ huge culpability in the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown. It also means that homeowners and the economy still need more relief, and that the banks, without more meaningful punishment, will not be deterred from the next round of misbehavior.
Under the terms of the settlement, the banks will provide $26 billion worth of relief to borrowers and aid to states for anti-foreclosure efforts. In exchange, they will get immunity from government civil lawsuits for a litany of alleged abuses, including wrongful denial of loan modifications and wrongful foreclosures. That $26 billion is paltry compared with the scale of wrongdoing and ensuing damage, including 4 million homeowners who have lost their homes, 3.3 million others who are in or near foreclosure, and more than 11 million borrowers who are underwater by $700 billion.
The settlement could also end up doing more to clean up the banks’ books than to help homeowners. Banks will be required to provide at least $17 billion worth of principal-reduction loan modifications and other relief, like forbearance for unemployed homeowners. Compelling the banks to do principal write-downs is an undeniable accomplishment of the settlement. But the amount of relief is still tiny compared with the problem.
The New York Times (March 18)