DENVER (MarketWatch) — Caylin Crawford found herself out of work after a snowboarding accident and went to U.S. Bank for some help with her mortgage.
The 24-year-old homeowner said she was up-to-date on her monthly payments in January 2011 when she called to ask about loan-modification options.
“They said, ‘We can’t do anything to help you unless you are behind on your mortgage,’” she recalled. “’So stop paying, and then we can modify your loan.’”
Crawford said she took the bank’s advice. But the bank didn’t modify her loan. Instead, it foreclosed on her home.
Crawford has sued the bank as well as the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac (US: FMCC), in a federal district court in Minneapolis, alleging wrongful foreclosure. U.S. Bank (US: USB) services the loan, and Freddie Mac holds the note. She said she is now in settlement discussions with Freddie Mac.
“I only owed $28,000 on my house when they foreclosed,” Crawford said in a telephone interview. “They’ve probably spent $60,000 defending their foreclosure instead of just working with me.”
Thomas Joyce, a spokesman for U.S. Bank, said the company has no record of its representatives telling Crawford not to pay her mortgage. “We’ve long been committed to sound loan modification and foreclosure practices,” he said. “And we’ve always regarded foreclosures as a last resort.”
Mark Goldman, a California mortgage broker and a lecturer at the Corky McMillin Real Estate Center at San Diego State University, said Crawford’s claim is common.
He says companies that service loans sometimes can make more money when the loans are in default. “When a loan goes into special services, the servicers get huge increases in servicing fees,” he said.
Joyce, at U.S. Bank, said this simply doesn’t happen. Defaulted loans “are not economically advantaged in any way,” he said. “We don’t collect any fees or income at foreclosure. We spend millions of dollars to help keep people in their homes, because that is what’s best for all concerned.”
Federal housing authorities, however, have wrestled with perverse economic incentives at mortgage-servicing companies.
“It is clear that the mortgage-servicing compensation model is broken and should be fixed,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan wrote in January 2011 letter to Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Freddie Mac.
And last week, 10 major banks that service mortgages agreed to pay $8.5 billion to settle charges they wrongfully foreclosed on people. The Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which exacted the settlement, more politely called it “deficient practices in mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.”