Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 24, 2014

Is $50 Billion of Mortgage Relief Enough?

By David Reiss

The National Mortgage Settlement Monitor issued his Final Crediting Report. The report states that

In total, the servicers have provided more than $50 billion of gross dollar relief, which translates into more than $20 billion in credited relief under the Settlement’s scoring system. More than 600,000 families received some form of relief under the Settlement. Aggregate credited relief includes:

• $7,589,277,740, or 37 percent of total credited relief, of first lien principal forgiveness.

• $3,105,152,359, or 15 percent of total credited relief, of second lien forgiveness.

• $3,587,672,814, or 17 percent of total credited relief, of refinancing assistance.

• $6,410,554,173, or 31 percent of total credited relief, of other forms of relief, including, but not  limited to, assistance related to short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure. (2)

I am not going to criticize the substance of the mortgage settlement. But I have a hard time translating these massive numbers into an understanding of how much help people got from the settlement. $20 Billion of credited relief divided by 600,000 households comes out to about $33,000 in relief per household. The Monitor gives us no sense as to whether that $33,000 made a difference to the affected families.

Perhaps going forward, massive settlements like this should include metrics that help to break down these large numbers into categories that make more intuitive sense:  for instance, did the mortgage relief reduce the monthly payment to a sustainable level?  What percent reduction was there in monthly mortgage payments? How many mortgages were converted from underwater mortgages into ones that were in the money as a result of the settlement? Metrics such as these would help give an understanding of how many people were helped (certainly more than one of the metrics often repeated by the monitor, “My team spent 36,000 hours reviewing and testing the consumer relief and refinancing activities reported by the banks.

As counter-intuitive as the question may seem, do we have enough information to really know whether $50 Billion of mortgage relief made a meaningful difference for American households?

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