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Mortgage settlement Q & A

How do I find out if I'm eligible for relief?

Only customers of the five lenders in the agreement are covered. If you're eligible for relief, you should be contacted. If you are not contacted but your loan is serviced by one of the five banks, you should call them to see if you are eligible:

• Ally/GMAC: 800-766-4622

• Bank of America: 877-488-7814

• Citi: 866-272-4749

• JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901

• Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212

How do people qualify for the principal reduction program?

Borrowers must be behind on their payments or near default. Most of the principal reductions should go to borrowers whose loans are owned by the banks, though some borrowers whose loans were packaged into securities may also qualify. The settlement calls for principal reductions on both first and second mortgages.

How about the refinance program?

The refinance program applies only to loans owned by the banks. Borrowers must be current on their mortgage and owe more than the home is worth. The interest rate on loans can be lowered to as low as 5.25 percent.

I lost my home to foreclosure. Can I get any money?

Borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, will be contacted by a settlement administrator. Depending on how many people are eligible, the payouts will be between $1,500 and $2,000.

The settlement doesn't include enough money to help all 1.9 million Floridians under water in their mortgages, let alone people who have already lost their home to foreclosure. How will it prioritize who gets help?

That's yet to be determined. The process starts with picking an administrator to handle the logistics of the settlement, expected to take up to 60 days. Then the administrator, working with regulators and the banks, will take another six to nine months to identify who is eligible. The distribution of funds is expected to take up to three years.

Loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are not covered by the settlement. How do I find out if my loan is owned by Fannie or Freddie?

These websites will tell you: www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup or www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage

My mortgage is with a lender not mentioned in the agreement. Will I get any help?

Not from this settlement. But federal and state authorities are negotiating with other lenders and the scope of the settlement may grow.

Does this immunize banks from prosecution? Do homeowners still have the right to bring lawsuits against banks that fraudulently foreclosed?

This is a civil settlement that releases the five lenders from civil claims related to foreclosure abuses like robo-signing and loan origination misconduct.

This does not affect criminal prosecutions. It also does not prevent homeowners or investors from pursuing civil cases against the five banks. Moreover, federal and state investigators can still pursue charges related to other aspects of the mortgage crisis, such as securities cases.

How did the settlement come about?

This is the aftermath of a state and federal investigation into how major lenders service their mortgage loans, especially in regard to filing foreclosures. One key concern was the practice known as robo-signing, in which banks submitted foreclosure documents that weren't properly reviewed or notarized.

Does this hold the lenders responsible for past wrongdoing?

No. The agreement doesn't hold the banks responsible for past practices. It does require them to change and monitor their system going forward. They are supposed to end not only robo-signing, but also streamline procedures. They have to provide a single contact point for consumers and stick to stricter deadlines in processing modification requests. A special independent monitor will have authority to oversee the banks and require compliance.

Times staff writers Mark Puente and Jeff Harrington contributed to this report, which also used information from the Wall Street Journal.

The fastest way to even more details

For easy access to the settlement website, which includes contact information for the five participating lenders, or links to figure out whether your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, go to links.tampabay.com.

Mortgage settlement Q & A 02/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 9, 2012 11:23pm]
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