IndyMac's mortgage struggle
Bank's new owners are required to adjust mortgages to get government aid. But getting a modification is not easy, borrowers and housing counselors say.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Five months after securing a sweet deal to buy IndyMac Bank, the new owners say they are fulfilling their obligation to modify troubled home loans.
Some frustrated borrowers and housing counselors, however, say it's anything but easy to deal with the institution, now known as OneWest Bank. They say the bank needs to do more for its troubled customers because of the perks it is receiving from the government.
"They're less responsive, more difficult to get affordable workouts from, and their reps are ruder," said Alexa Milton, homeowner advocacy director at Acorn Housing. "They have a responsibility to do better."
While many banks are getting a helping hand from Washington, OneWest is enjoying a special deal.
Once one of the nation's largest lenders of Alt-A mortgages made to borrowers who did not need to verify their income or assets, IndyMac was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in July 2008. The FDIC used the institution to put into practice the affordable loan modification efforts championed by the agency's chair, Sheila Bair.
When the group of private investors bought the Pasadena, Calif.-based bank earlier this year, the FDIC promised to cover a majority of the losses in the institution's home loan portfolio. In return, the investors agreed to continue the loan modification efforts.
OneWest says it is committed to working with homeowners to modify their mortgages. The bank announced last week that it will extend President Obama's modification program to all qualified loans in its portfolio, not just those owned by Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500).
OneWest has modified 3,605 loans under the president's program and 14,570 mortgages under the FDIC and other initiatives between March and July, the bank said. This compares to 16,158 loans adjusted under the FDIC between September and February. It did not provide details on the non-government modifications being done.
Responding to borrowers' complaints, OneWest said it is making significant investment in its servicing operations, adding customer service staff and increasing call center capacity.
"At OneWest, meeting the needs of our customers is our highest priority," the bank said in a statement.
The FDIC said it conducts periodic reviews of the bank's modification efforts. The agency also follows up on complaints that OneWest representatives are not being responsive or are denying loans that should be eligible for modification.
"We have not uncovered any indication that they are not complying with their agreement, but we are continuing to monitor their performance," said Michael Krimminger, the FDIC's point person on loan modifications.
Housing counselors and borrowers have a different view. While they acknowledge that modification efforts are bumpy at other servicers as well, they say that OneWest is worse than most.
"The counselors have to constantly call and check the IndyMac files," said Shawna Nelms, interim program director of the national homeownership sustainability fund at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. "They really, really have to advocate for the modifications to take place."
Liz Caton, who works with distressed borrowers at the Northwest Side Housing Center in Chicago, said OneWest is constantly sending homeowners automated modification offers, only to deny them after they send in their paperwork. After a few rounds of this, homeowners lose hope, she said.
"There's no reason to trust them," said Caton, who has met several times with OneWest representatives with little result. "It doesn't seem they have any incentive to work with homeowners. They've shown no effort."
Borrowers have also contacted CNNMoney.com to say they are getting the runaround.
One of them is Sharon Clark. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., resident has gotten a different story every time she calls OneWest. In April, she was told the bank would cut her monthly mortgage payment to $3,000 from $4,800, since her family's income was cut in half.
The next month, Clark got a default letter and sent in her paperwork again. In June, she received a denial letter for the modification. A few weeks later, she was told to send proof of her husband's income, which she did, only to be denied again.
"OneWest made a lucrative deal with the FDIC," Clark said. "They should be working with all homeowners."
After CNNMoney.com contacted the institution, Clark received an e-mail saying she was eligible to apply for the president's loan modification plan. But the representative warned that since OneWest only recently started participating, it "may take a bit longer to receive the decision."
Clark laughed when she received the package, since it's the same paperwork she's filled out before. But she said she'll submit it.