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State and Federal Foreclosure Settlement for Homeowners

August 18th, 2012

Eviana Martin, an attorney at the Martin Law Firm, P.L. has recently attended the 20th Annual Bankruptcy Law Convention organized by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in San Antonio, Texas.

One of the topics discussed at the conference was “The Big Freeze” referring to Wells Fargo a/k/a/ Wachovia Bank putting a hold on the individual’s bank account if that individual files for bankruptcy protection. The bank is fast at putting a hold on the bank account even if the individual filing for bankruptcy protection does NOT owe any money to the bank and even if the funds are claimed as exempt in bankruptcy. It does not matter if you are filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, just the fact of having any funds in the Wells Fargo bank account is enough for the bank to “freeze” the account.  The bank “preserves” the money in the account for the bankruptcy trustee. An individual can prevent this from happening by withdrawing the funds from the bank account before filing the bankruptcy case. Eventually the funds will be released back to the debtor and the hold will be lifted, but this process might take several weeks and if the money in the account were intended to be used to pay the utilities bill or mortgage, by losing access to these funds an individual’s payments might be jeopardized.

Another hot topic discussed at the conference was the recent state and federal foreclosure settlement with five of the U.S. largest mortgage servicers including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Ally/GMAC, and Wells Fargo banks. The settlement applies to the homeowners in the State of Florida whose loans were serviced by the above mentioned loan providers and who were harmed by the bank’s unfair mortgage servicing practices and foreclosure abuses. The logistics of the settlement awards and the application procedures and requirements are still in the workouts.  The settlement is intended to provide mortgage relief and direct payments to the Florida borrowers. The settlement consists of two segments- one is the federal settlement in the amount of approximately $25 billion dollars and second is a portion of the settlement in the amount of estimated $8.4 billion dollars available to Florida residents who meet the application criteria and have mortgages with one of the five servicers listed above.

Homeowners who are current on their mortgages but who owe more than the property is worth, will also be evaluated for possible eligibility for mortgage modifications and principal reductions to the first and second mortgages. Qualifying homeowners who lost their homes in foreclosure lawsuits from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2011 might also be eligible to receive cash payments. The settlement will also address the future loan servicing practices and will require the loan servicers to comply with a stricter mortgage servicing standards. The settlement does not release the banks from the criminal liability or individual claims from the borrowers or class action lawsuits.

The settlement Monitoring Committee, consisting of  numerous State Attorney Generals, is currently looking to select a settlement administration companies that will be in charge of receiving and reviewing the claims for the settlement benefits. The Committee will also overview the bank’s compliance with the settlement provisions and deadlines, imposing penalties and fines for non-compliance. The Committee estimates that the review of the claims will start as early as June 2012 and will continue for the next six to nine months.

Since the duration of this agreement is limited to three years, homeowners are encouraged to contact their lenders directly to inquire about the application process and the qualifications for the mortgage modification programs or monetary awards. Listed below is contact information that will help you to further inquire into the workouts of the settlement agreement:

For the further information regarding the financial restitution for the borrowers who lost their home in foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011, contact the Attorney General’s Office at www.myfloridalegal.com.

For the loan modifications and refinancing options for borrowers who are current but underwater on their homes, contact the banks directly:

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

However, if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you are not affected by this settlement. If you are not sure whether your loan is owned by one of these servicers, check their websites:

Fannie Mae at http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup

Freddie Mac at http://freddiemac/mymortgage

More information could be found on www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com or www.myfloridalegal.com.

Eviana Martin is an attorney with the Martin Law Firm, P.L. Her practice focuses on Bankruptcy and Consumer Law. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida and the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida. She represents clients from Lee, Charlotte and Collier Counties at the firm’s offices in Fort Myers, Cape Cora, North Fort Myers, and Naples, Florida.

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