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Bank of America Offers Principal Reductions to 200,000 Homeowners

A select group of struggling mortgage borrowers are about to get an offer that sounds too good to be true. Executives at Bank of America say they will begin mailing 200,000 letters offering certain customers mortgage principal reduction.

Eligible borrowers could get as much as $150,000 knocked off the balance of their mortgages. It is all part of the $25 billion settlement reached this year between federal and state agencies and the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers over fraudulent foreclosure document processing (so-called “robo-signing”).

Executives say borrowers receiving the letters are eligible, but they still have to prove they qualify. In order to be eligible, a borrower must be 60 days late on the mortgage payment as of Jan. 31, 2012. The borrower has to owe more on the mortgage than the home is currently worth, commonly known as being “underwater” on the mortgage, and the borrower’s loan must either be owned by Bank of America or serviced by Bank of America for an investor who is allowing the modifications.

In order to qualify for the modification, the borrower must answer the letter with full documentation of income, showing that under the terms of the modification they can still make the monthly payment. A borrower with no income would therefore not qualify. A borrower’s current monthly payment must be more than 25 percent of gross income, and the borrower must show they are unable to afford that.

If the borrower qualifies, Bank of America will bring the monthly mortgage payment down to 25 percent of the borrower’s gross income. That could mean principal forgiveness well over $100,000, as there is no limit to the amount of the mortgage. If enough borrowers respond, it could cost Bank of America far more than it committed to in the settlement.

Some 6,500 letters should be arriving in mailboxes across the country this week, with a wave of new letters going out every week until the end of the summer, when all 200,000 should have been mailed. Bank of America is staggering the mailings in order to handle the expected response. The bank has staffed up to handle the task, with 50,000 employees manning servicing desks, but the process will clearly take a lot of time. That’s why Bank of America has suspended any foreclosure actions against these 200,000 borrowers until the process is complete.

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