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Major mortgage lenders agree to overhaul

WASHINGTON — The nation's five largest mortgage lenders — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial — have agreed to overhaul their industry after deceptive foreclosure practices drove homeowners out of their homes, government officials said Monday.

A draft settlement between the banks and U.S. states has been sent to state officials for review.

Those who lost their homes to foreclosure are unlikely to get their homes back or benefit much financially from the settlement, which could be as high as $25 billion. About 750,000 Americans — about half of the households who might be eligible for assistance under the deal — will likely receive checks for about $1,800.

But the agreement could reshape long-standing mortgage-lending guidelines and make it easier for those at risk of foreclosure to restructure their loans. And roughly 1 million homeowners could see the size of their mortgage reduced.

The five mortgage lenders and U.S. state attorneys general could adopt the agreement within weeks, according to two officials briefed on the discussions who asked not to be identified by the Associated Press because they are not authorized to discuss the agreement publicly.

The settlement would be the biggest of a single industry since the 1998 multistate tobacco deal. And it would end a painful chapter that grew out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Nearly 8 million Americans have faced foreclosure since the housing bubble burst. In some cases, companies that process mortgages failed to verify the information on foreclosure documents. The worst practices, known collectively as "robo-signing," included employees signing documents they hadn't read or using fake signatures to sign off on foreclosures.

President Barack Obama is expected to tout the settlement in his State of the Union address tonight. His administration has put pressure on state officials to wrap up a deal more than a year in the making.

But some say the proposed deal doesn't go far enough. They have argued for a thorough investigation of potentially illegal foreclosure practices before a settlement is hammered out.

New York, Delaware, Nevada and Massachusetts have argued that banks should not be protected from future civil liability. The deal will not fully release banks from future criminal lawsuits by individual states.

The settlement would apply only to privately held mortgages issued between 2008 and 2011, not those held by government-controlled Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie and Freddie own about half of all U.S. mortgages, roughly about 31 million U.S. home loans.

As part of the deal, about 1 million homeowners could also get the principal amount of their mortgages written down by an average of $20,000. One in four homeowners with a mortgage — or roughly 11 million people — owe more than their home is worth. These so-called "underwater" borrowers have little chance at refinancing.

Major mortgage lenders agree to overhaul 01/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 23, 2012 8:36pm]
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