The New York Times’s page one today is loaded with business stories.
My favorite is Peter S. Goodman’s excellent one on a homeowner falling through the cracks of the government’s less-than-overwhelming mortgage-rescue program. Goodman focuses on an Arizona woman who cash-out refinanced her home during the boom like just about everybody else, and has lost her job as the economy crashed.
It’s one heck of an anecdote because she’s yet to miss a payment and is sort of an American everywoman. And even though she’s eligible for a mortgage modification that would reduce her payment and help her stay in the house—and keep paying her loan!— her bank won’t give one to her.
Guess what bank that is.
Countrywide, now Bank of America. A leopard doesn’t change its spots:
But when Eileen Ulery called her mortgage company — Countrywide, now part of Bank of America — the bank did not offer to alter her mortgage. Rather, the bank tried to sell her a new loan with a slightly lower monthly payment while asking her to pay $13,000 toward the principal and a fresh $5,000 in fees.
So, even though the government is subsidizing banks to help their borrowers pay them, the banks are still after—at least in this case—the almighty fees, and screw the customers!
Somehow if Ms. Ulery were able to come up with $18,000 on her $143,000 note, she should not pay $5,000 in new fees to Countrywide—err, excuse me—Bank of America.
What would she get for her trouble? A higher interest rate! Shouldn’t that be illegal?
In April, she called the bank. The representative said the bank was not doing modifications for people like her, she recalled. He shifted the conversation: if she handed over $18,000, he could lower her payment to $967 from $1,046. Her interest rate would actually increase slightly, with the drop largely because she was putting down more money.
“I just laughed,” Ms. Ulery said. “It was a really good deal for them.”
It’s impossible to know just how much of this is still going on out there, but you can bet this isn’t a one-off thing.
Good for the Times and Goodman for spotlighting it.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.