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October 6, 2008

AGs Reach Agreement with Countrywide Financial that will Help Borrowers Facing Foreclosure

The Iowa Attorney General says the settlement will offer mortgage loan modifications to more than 1,100 Iowans that will help many avoid foreclosure and loss of their homes.

(DES MOINES) Attorney General Tom Miller said Monday that mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. has agreed to provide loan modifications to up to 397,000 borrowers nationwide under a settlement with Iowa and other states. Permanent relief to borrowers could equal about $8 billion nationwide, the company estimated.

The agreement was reached late Friday by several states with Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide Financial on July 1, 2008. Miller was a lead negotiator of the agreement.

“More than 1,100 Iowans will be offered mortgage loan modifications that will help many people avoid foreclosure and losing their homes,” Miller said, adding that the potential economic relief to borrowers in Iowa from the modifications is estimated to be about $11 million. About one-fourth to one-half of all Countrywide subprime loans in Iowa are delinquent, depending on the type of loan.

“This large, systematic, streamlined modification program is a break-through,” Miller said. “We urge other servicers to adopt this approach to aiding borrowers facing foreclosure. This is the approach we need across this industry to stop the flood of foreclosures, which is at the heart of the problem of falling home prices and the liquidity crisis,” he said.

Under the agreement, eligible subprime borrowers will be able to modify the terms of their loans to make monthly payments more affordable. Modified loan terms will vary according to the circumstances of the borrower, but they may include an automatic freeze or reduction in interest rates, conversion to fixed-term loans, or reduction of principal owed.

First-year payments of principal, interest, taxes and insurance (PITI) will be targeted under the modifications to equate to 34 percent of the borrower’s income (or 25 percent of income for borrowers for whom taxes and insurance are not escrowed.)

Countrywide said the loan modification program will be ready for implementation by December 1, 2008, and that the company would engage in proactive outreach to eligible customers by then. Countrywide also noted that foreclosure sales will not be initiated or advanced for borrowers likely to qualify until Countrywide has made an affirmative decision on a borrower’s eligibility.

The settlement resolves allegations that Countrywide used unfair and deceptive tactics in its loan-origination and servicing activities – and that borrowers often were put in structurally unfair and unaffordable loans. Countrywide is the largest provider of subprime mortgages in the U.S.

Bank of America / Countrywide also will pay $150 million to states nationwide in a Foreclosure Relief Program for eligible Countrywide customers. The states may use up to half of those funds for programs aimed at preventing foreclosures. Bank of America / Countrywide also will pay up to $70 million nationwide in payments for relocation assistance to borrowers unable to retain their homes, and will waive up to $60-$80 million in prepayment penalties and default fees.

A report issued last week by the State Foreclosure Prevention Working Group led by Miller concluded that industry measures to keep homeowners out of foreclosure had slipped since the Working Group’s previous report in April, and that nearly eight out of ten seriously delinquent homeowners are not on track for any loss mitigation outcome. The group of state Attorneys General and banking departments concluded: “The mortgage industry’s failure to develop systematic approaches to prevent foreclosures has only spurred declines in property values and further increased expected losses on mortgage loan portfolios.”

Miller said the Countrywide agreement’s program of loan modifications to prevent foreclosures is a win for all parties. “Foreclosure is the enemy. Most important, loan modifications can help homeowners avoid foreclosures and keep their homes. Avoiding foreclosures also helps the companies, helps communities and neighborhoods, and helps our overall economy by stabilizing the housing market,” he said.

“This is what we have been looking for. This agreement provides for the kind of systematic and streamlined loan modification program that is critical right now,” Miller said. “I strongly urge other servicers to undertake similar aggressive programs to prevent foreclosures.”

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More details and background:

Miller urged Countrywide customers in Iowa to call the Countrywide toll-free number, 800-669-6607, for more information, including what records they will need to assemble to determine if they qualify for the loan modification program. Miller also urged any OTHER Iowans facing difficulty making their mortgage payments to call the Iowa Mortgage Help Hotline at 877-622-4866.

Countrywide said the loan modification program was designed to achieve affordable and sustainable mortgage payments for borrowers who financed their homes with subprime loans or pay option adjustable rate mortgages serviced by Countrywide that were originated prior to Dec. 31, 2007, and who are seriously delinquent or are likely to become seriously delinquent as a result of loan features, such as interest rate resets or payment recasts.

Under the settlement, which does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing, Bank of America / Countrywide also agreed to: stop offering pay option ARMs and significantly curtail offering “low-documentation” and “no-documentation” loans; initiate an early identification and contact program for people who have trouble making their payments; and continue working with non-profits, federal agencies, and state Attorneys General on ways to use REO (real estate owned) and other properties for community development.

The Bank of America / Countrywide settlement resolved investigations into Countrywide’s lending practices by Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Washington. The settlement also resolved lawsuits against Countrywide initiated by Illinois, California and Florida. Other states also are participating in the settlement.

Miller said he and his colleagues from Arizona, Ohio, Texas and Washington were especially insistent and focused on the loan modification program during extensive negotiations with Bank of America, and making the modification programs available quickly and nationwide.

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