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U.S. Banks Write Down $19 Billion Under Settlement

Five of the largest U.S. banks have provided $19 billion in mortgage-debt write-downs to some 240,000 borrowers under terms of a federal and state settlement of foreclosure-processing violations reached one year ago, according to a watchdog's report released Thursday.

Bank of America Corp. which was required to provide the majority of relief under the foreclosure pact, has accounted for the lion's share of principal write-downs, with around $13.5 billion in homeowner debts written off. The Charlotte, N.C., lender reported that another $2.2 billion in loan-forgiveness modifications were in a trial stage as of Dec. 31.

The figures were released Thursday by the independent monitor established to ensure that banks were meeting terms of their deal. Thursday's figures were reported by the banks to the monitor, Joseph A. Smith Jr., earlier this month and haven't yet been independently verified by his office.

Under the settlement, completed last March, banks must provide at least $10 billion in loan write-downs and $10 billion in other homeowner aid, such as short sales under which banks allow borrowers to sell their house for less than the amount owed.

Overall, the report said banks had provided various forms of aid worth $45.8 billion to more than 550,000 borrowers.

California received more than 40 percent of the mortgage-relief benefits from a 49-state National Mortgage Settlement in 2012, a UC Irvine professor reported Thursday.

Katherine Porter, the UC Irvine law professor appointed to monitor the settlement for California, estimated that about 175,000 borrowers got $20.6 billion so far from the five major banks involved in the February 2012 national settlement.

In California, almost 93,000 borrowers received $11.2 billion worth of loan reductions or debt forgiveness from March through December, Porter's state analysis showed.

By comparison, nearly 60,000 California borrowers walked away last year from about $8.8 billion in unpaid debts during short sales – or sale for less than is owed on the mortgage.

Porter's analysis shows further that nearly 8,300 underwater homeowners were able to refinance their mortgages and lower their monthly payments, saving about $444.6 million.

Banks receive varying amounts of credit depending on which loans they modify and the figures reported Thursday don't necessarily receive dollar-for-dollar credit to count towards the settlement's targets. Mr. Smith's office said it hasn't yet scored how any completed relief counts towards those targets.

Last week, Mr. Smith certified to a District of Columbia judge that one of the banks subject to the deal--Ally Financial Inc.--had satisfied terms of the settlement.

The settlement with Bank of America, Ally, and three other large banks--Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo Co.--resolved state and federal investigations related to questionable foreclosure practices. Attorneys general from 49 states and the District of Columbia agreed to the settlement.

So far, short sales account for the vast majority of relief tabbed under the settlement, with banks forgiving around $19.5 billion on more than 168,000 properties. Many of those short sales might have happened without the settlement because banks generally lose less money on those than they do on foreclosures.

Banks wrote down around $7.4 billion in first mortgages for more than 70,000 homeowners through December; in addition, they forgave another $11.6 billion in second-lien mortgages for around 170,000 borrowers.

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