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LOS ANGELES--California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today disclosed “shocking new details” about Countrywide Financial’s deceptive business practices which included ignoring their own underwriting guidelines and rewarding employees for selling risky home loans.
"These shocking new details provide further evidence of Countrywide's dangerous lending practices, which included ignoring borrowers' low credit scores and rewarding employees for selling risky loans,' Attorney General Brown said. 'In one case the company approved an adjustable rate mortgage to an 85-year-old disabled veteran with such a low credit score and high debt that he defaulted in less than six months.'
On June 20, 2008 Attorney General Brown sued Countrywide for engaging in deceptive advertising and unfair competition by pushing homeowners into risky loans for the sole purpose of reselling the mortgages on the secondary market. Today Brown filed an amended lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court which reveals twenty new details about the company's scheme to deceive consumers into taking out dangerous mortgages. The information had been previously withheld from the complaint.
Some of the new information includes the fact that Countrywide’s wholesale lending officers received higher commissions for selling Pay Option Adjustable Rate Mortgages--loans that entice consumers with a very low initial 'teaser' rate--and loans with weak underwriting standards. Countrywide also paid higher commissions for putting borrowers into loans with higher rates and fees than they qualified for based upon credit scores and other factors.
Countrywide ignored factors that it identified as having negative impacts on underwriting including: high debt ratios, low credit scores, and minimal down payments. Company employees regularly overrode warnings from Countrywide's computerized underwriting system, known as CLUES, which issued loan analysis reports rating consumer credit, purported ability to repay, and whether a proposed loan complied with underwriting guidelines.
The following examples describe new details about how Countrywide granted exceptions to sound business practices. These examples represent a small percentage of the large number of California residents who are facing foreclosure due to Countrywide’s dangerous practices:
• A Countrywide loan officer convinced a borrower to take a Pay Option ARM with a 1-month teaser rate and a 3-year prepayment penalty plus a full-draw piggyback home equity line of credit based on the loan officer’s representation that the value of the borrower’s home would continue to rise and he would have no problem refinancing. The borrower’s debt-to-income ratio was 47 percent and credit score was 663. The loan officer offered the loan even though the company’s CLUES report and an underwriter review indicated strong doubts about the borrower’s ability to repay. The loan closed in January 2006, and a Notice of Default issued in June 2007.
• The CLUES report issued for a loan applicant in February 2005 stated that the consumer had too much debt for the loan program and identified other elements of risk including a low credit score. The CLUES report raised doubts about the borrower’s ability to repay the loan but Countrywide approved a 3/27 adjustable rate mortgage with a 3-year prepayment penalty, to an 85-year old disabled veteran with a credit score of 509 score and an debt-to-income ratio of nearly 60 percent. The loan closed in February 2005, and a Notice of Default issued in July 2005.
• The CLUES report for a proposed loan identified multiple risks that created doubts about the borrower’s ability to make the payments, including the fact that a borrower had an open collection account. In January 2006, however, Countrywide granted exceptions for these risks and approved a reduced documentation Pay Option Adjustable Rate Mortgage loan for $352,000 with a 3-month teaser rate and a 3-year prepayment penalty, as well as a Piggyback home equity line of credit for $22,000. The loan closed in January 2006, and a Notice of Default issued in October 2006.
Many borrowers who obtained Pay Option and Hybrid ARMs did not understand that their initial monthly payment would at some point 'explode,' that their initial interest rate would increase and become adjustable, or that the principal amount of their loans could actually increase. Countrywide received numerous complaints regarding these practices from borrowers, including over 3,000 complaints per year handled by the Office of the President between January 2005 and August 2007.
Countrywide gave branch managers commissions or bonuses based on the net profits and loan volume generated by each branching, thereby creating intense pressure to sell as many loans as possible, as quickly as possible, at the highest prices possible. Branch managers were rewarded for meeting production goals set by corporate management, increasing the number of loans sold per loan officer, and reducing the time periods between the loan application stage and funding--or penalized for failing to do so.
Today’s amended lawsuit also contains updated data about Countrywide's staggering foreclosure rates. As of April this year, 21.11% of the mortgages owned by Countrywide Home Loans were in some stage of delinquency or foreclosure, including 47.97% of originated non-prime loans, and 21.23% of Pay Option ARMs. In January and March, 2008, Countrywide recorded 3,175 notices of default in Alameda, Fresno, Riverside, and San Diego counties alone, representing an aggregate total of delinquent principal and interest of more than $917 million.
The state's amended complaint is attached. For more information about California’s lawsuit against Countrywide please visit: http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1582&