September 2018 marks the 10 year anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the event that signifies the start of the financial crisis in many people's minds. You remember the financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression, the one that almost destroyed the economy? That one.
Everyone has an opinion about the crisis and how they would have responded to it if they had been in charge. You'll hear people say that they wouldn't have bailed out the banks and the government should have done this or that, and it would have been better that way, and blah, blah, blah.
When people talk about the financial crisis, they usually talk about what happened with the big banks and the government's bailout. What gets almost no attention are the regular homeowners who have been affected as a result of the crisis.
You don't hear a lot about the fact that as many as 10 million people lost their homes to foreclosure, causing a massive amount of families' wealth to evaporate.
Homeowners have largely been forgotten or ignored, as has the often terrible, sometimes illegal behavior of the banks. If homeowners are mentioned, they're blamed for causing the crisis, which is not fair or accurate.
We haven't forgotten about the homeowners. Since 2008 Amerihope Alliance Legal Services has been defending homeowners from foreclosure and helping them get loan modifications. So we've seen up close how difficult it's been for people who had mortgage problems during the crisis and now.
Let's look at a few forgotten issues related to the financial crisis and foreclosure and how they've affected homeowners:
Robo-signing describes the mass production of false and forged mortgage assignments, affidavits, and other “documents related to mortgage foreclosures and legal matters being created by persons without knowledge of the facts being attested to.” In many cases banks had many foreclosures on their hands and inadequate documentation, so they started forging and falsifying documents so they could move the foreclosure process along more quickly.
States and the federal government brought charges against the banks for these illegal practices, and in 2012 49 state attorneys general and the federal government reached a settlement with the country's largest mortgage servicers. The settlement provided more than $50 billion in assistance to homeowners harmed by wrongful foreclosures. It was the largest consumer financial protection settlement in U.S. history.
Dual-tracking is the illegal practice where a mortgage servicer considers a homeowner for a loan modification while pushing them toward foreclosure. Homeowners can be under the impression that they're about to get a home-saving loan mod, then be denied, with a foreclosure sale coming and few options available to them. Banks were known to do this often during the earlier days of the crisis, but it does still happen today.
Loan Modification Nightmare
During the worst of the financial crisis, as now, loan modifications were the only hope most people have for saving their home after falling behind on their mortgage payments. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to get. You have to submit an extensive application to be considered for a loan mod, and the slightest error can result in denial. Documents have to be resubmitted constantly, and the process is frustrating.
There are many cases of the banks failing in their responsibility to give homeowners a fair chance at saving their home. If you fall behind on your mortgage, don't count on the bank to make it easy for you. Have someone with experience defend you from foreclosure and help you apply for a loan modification. They will know what the bank needs to see in order to approve your application.
Many things have changed since the height of the financial crisis. Some of the worst behavior of the banks has been curbed, unemployment is at pre-crisis levels, and home values have recovered a lot of the value they lost. But people still fall behind on their mortgages for all kinds of reasons, and you still need an attorney if you're in foreclosure.
The bank has attorneys working for them, and it's not a fair fight if you don't have one working for you. Having a qualified attorney on your side can make the difference between losing your home to foreclosure and keeping it with a loan modification.
The hardships endured by homeowners and the behavior of banks toward them may not ever be fully appreciated most Americans, but we get it. We've heard all the terrible stories, and we've helped more than 7,000 people save their homes.