But Don’t Expect Any Help

Ben Hallman, Huffington Post

Have a complaint about the bank managing your home loan? Joseph Smith, the former North Carolina banking commissioner charged with enforcing the national mortgage settlement, would like to hear it.

On Thursday, Smith announced the launch of an online tool for attorneys and other advocates to report their clients’ mortgage servicing complaints. There is also a tool for homeowners to lodge a complaint directly.

“This allows me, as monitor, to hear complaints and learn more about advocates’ impressions of how the settlement is working,” he said. “Although I’ll extensively review reports and monitoring from the banks and my own team of auditors, it is still critical for me to receive information from the heart of each community this settlement serves.”

While filing a grievance may help the settlement’s top enforcer keep an eye on the banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial — Smith does not have the power to investigate individual complaints or help homeowners. This speaks to the limitations of the mortgage settlement, which expires in three years and was never intended to give individual homeowners an opportunity to have their appeals for help directly heard.

Under the settlement, banks pledged to overhaul how they manage troubled loans. That includes eliminating “dual-tracking,” the practice of banks pursuing foreclosure proceedings against homeowners who are at the same time seeking a trial loan modification. Financial institutions must also establish a single point of contact for troubled borrowers — a response to widespread complaints from homeowners that when they called for help, they never could speak to the same person twice.

Homeowners’ biggest complaint over the past few years is the lack of response from banks and the government to their claims about wrongful fees, misapplied payments and botched foreclosures.

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