BUSINESS

State Officials, Federal Regulators Could Issue Separate Orders For Foreclosure Reform

04/12/2011 12:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2011

The rift continues to widen between state and federal officials over foreclosure reform.

Since the 50 state attorneys general first issued their proposal to aggressively overhaul the foreclosure process and penalize servicers, the two sides have clashed over the specifics, with states reportedly advocating for stricter measures than federal regulators.

Disagreements have now become pronounced enough to leave open the prospect that the states could eventually issue their own orders for reform, independent of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve -- two government agencies charged with reforming the foreclosure process, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a letter sent on Monday to the Federal Reserve, the WSJ reports, 22 current and former board members of the Fed's Consumer Advisory Council said federal regulators' potential proposal appears to be "profoundly disappointing," leaving "too much discretion" to mortgage companies without imposing strict enough penalties for foreclosure abuses.

America's five largest mortgage firms have saved over $20 billion since the start of the housing crisis by shortcutting the home loan process of struggling borrowers, HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour reported earlier this month.

In a report last month that drew the ire of housing and consumer advocates, the Fed found no evidence of wrongful foreclosures.

Still, other regulators have advocated hitting the 14 largest mortgage firms with upwards of $30 billion in penalties for past abusive practices.

Amid the debate, a new paper entitled "The Economics of the Proposed Mortgage Servicer Settlement," funded in part by the financial services industry, disputes the notion that the state attorneys generals' proposal will protect homeowners, arguing that it would instead "generate significant unintended negative consequences" by raising "the number of defaults and servicing costs."

Reuters blogger Felix Salmon doesn't agree, calling the paper "ridiculous" and emphasizing the conflict of interest. "Even bankers," Salmon notes, "aren’t making these arguments with a straight face any more."

The federal debate over the foreclosure process has heated up in recent weeks, with the Obama administration backtracking on an earlier, more dramatic proposition more in line with that of the states attorneys general. The president's earlier proposal would have required mortgage lenders to reduce monthly payments for millions of U.S. homeowners.

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