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Report blasts foreclosure practices

NEW YORK — A federal regulator confirmed Wednesday that the country’s biggest banks committed widespread errors in dealing with homeowners who faced foreclosures at the height of the mortgage crisis, but the findings are unlikely to put to rest questions from lawmakers and others about the extent of the problems.

The report released by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is a postmortem of the Independent Foreclosure Review, a costly but ultimately limited examination of how banks mistreated homeowners.

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The latest analysis found that at least 9 percent of the errors discovered in the review involved banks improperly denying loan modifications that would have prevented foreclosures. The report also found that more than half of the errors related to administrative flaws and improper fees charged to homeowners during the foreclosures process.

Last year, 15 financial institutions settled with banking regulators, making payments that totaled $3.9 billion to more than 4 million homeowners. The settlements ended the independent reviews, which had been costly and lengthy. As part of the deals, the banks agreed to pay the homeowners, regardless of whether they had been harmed.

Only one lender, OneWest, the former IndyMac bank, opted instead to continue with the review of loan files. After completing most of the review this year, OneWest, a California-based bank, doled out a relatively modest $8.5 million.

While the OCC report offers a snapshot of the extensive foreclosure problems during the crisis, it does not provide a complete picture of the morass that millions of homeowners encountered in 2009 and 2010.

Faced with criticism that the reviews were taking too long and costing hundreds of millions in consulting fees, banks and regulators reached settlements and stopped the process, after only a small fraction of the mortgage files had been reviewed.

The report shows that banks had made even less progress in reviews than previously disclosed.

Bank of America, for example, had reviewed only 6 percent of its files, revealing a financial error rate of 8.9 percent. Wells Fargo had examined about 9.6 percent of its records, finding an error rate of 11.4 percent.

MetLife did not complete any of its reviews but was still required to pay $37 million to compensate homeowners, based on the average preliminary error rates calculated by regulators.

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