The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun mailing approximately 450,000 refund checks totalling nearly $108 million to homeowners who were allegedly overcharged by Countrywide Home Loans Inc. As part of the FTC’s efforts to protect financially distressed homeowners, the FTC reached a settlement with Countrywide last year over allegations that the company collected excessive fees from borrowers who were struggling to keep their homes. “It’s astonishing that a single company could be responsible for overcharging more than 450,000 homeowners,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Countrywide’s unconscionable behavior harmed American consumers on a massive scale and we are proud to be getting every single dollar back to hundreds of thousands of struggling consumers who can least afford to lose the money.” The Countrywide settlement, handed down in June 2010 by the FTC, required Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America, to pay $108 million to be used for refunds and barred the company from taking advantage of borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments. The refunds are being distributed to consumers whose loans were serviced by Countrywide between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 1, 2008, and who were subject to the company’s allegedly unlawful practices. According to the FTC, homeowners who were in default on their loans were charged excessive fees for services, such as property inspections, lawn mowing, and other services meant to protect the lender’s interest in the property. Rather than simply hire third-party vendors to perform the services, Countrywide used subsidiaries to hire the vendors. The subsidiaries allegedly marked up the price of the services charged by the vendors—often by 100 percent or more—and Countrywide then charged the homeowners the marked-up fees. The FTC complaint alleges that the company’s strategy was to increase profits from default-related service fees in bad economic times. Also, in servicing loans for borrowers trying to save their homes in Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, the FTC alleged that Countrywide made false or unsupported claims to borrowers about amounts owed or the status of their loans, and added fees and escrow charges to their mortgage accounts without notice. An administrator working for the FTC will send out refunds to consumers who were overcharged for property inspections, maintenance services, title searches and foreclosure trustee services, and to those who were in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and were charged fees or escrow charges without being notified.
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