CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Bank of America Corp. is giving some of its most troubled mortgage borrowers relief from the threat of foreclosure.
The bank, the largest mortgage servicer in the country, said Wednesday it will forgive up to 30 percent of some customers' total mortgage balance. The homeowners must have missed at least two months of mortgage payments and owe at least 20 percent more than their home is currently worth.
The plan is the newest provision of an agreement the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank reached 18 months ago with state attorneys general to settle charges over high-risk loans made by Countrywide Financial Corp.
The loans were made before Bank of America acquired the mortgage lender in mid-2008. The bank has since stopped making those loans.
'The concern now is fairness'
Although the motivation for Bank of America's announcement was to resolve legal problems, it has the potential of putting pressure on other banks to also forgive principal on loans that are in danger of failing. Bank of America is the nation's largest bank, and it's among the first to take a systematic approach to reducing mortgage principal when home values drop well below the amount owed.
The Treasury Department, which already has a mortgage modification program, is developing similar plans for principal reductions at other mortgage servicers, according to industry officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations. They said an announcement could come in the next few months.
"They're talking about doing something and talking seriously about it," Julia Gordon, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer group, said of Treasury officials. "I think the concern now is fairness and making sure that the public understands the importance of principal reductions toward stabilizing the housing market and helping everybody."
Bank of America estimates that about 45,000 customers will qualify for its plan. The offer will cut total reduced principal by about $3 billion.
Some banks said they have already reduced principal on some mortgages. Wells Fargo & Co. said Wednesday it has modified more than 52,000 adjustable-rate mortgages that it inherited through its acquisition of Wachovia Corp. in late 2008. As of the fourth quarter, the bank also had reduced the principal on those mortgages by more than $2.6 billion.
Citigroup Inc. would not say whether it planned a similar program, but it did issue a statement that said in part, "Citi does reduce principal for borrowers on a case-by-case basis after other options to address affordability are exhausted."