Short sales and forgiveness of second liens continued to dominate relief efforts made by the top five banks as part of the national mortgage settlement, and Californians continue to receive the bulk of the benefits.

The top five mortgage servicers provided a combined $45.8 billion in consumer relief to more than 550,000 delinquent or underwater borrowers -- or roughly $82,668 per homeowner -- but that amount cannot be used to measure the banks' progress toward their obligations, Joseph A. Smith, the settlement's monitor, said Thursday.

In his third report since the deal was struck nearly a year ago, Smith said the amounts provided by Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (NYSE: C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Ally Financial have not been subject to a detailed review and have not yet been scored toward each bank's total obligation.

To date, short sales have dominated the relief efforts. Of the $19 billion in short sales offered to borrowers from March 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2012, B of A provided $11.8 billion in short sales, followed by JPMorgan Chase with $5.3 billion.

The $25 billion settlement signed in March with 49 state attorneys general and federal regulators was designed to address servicing abuses that led to the robo-signing of foreclosure documents. The five servicers are required to provide a minimum of $17 billion in direct consumer relief and $3 billion in refinancings of underwater borrowers. The remaining $5 billion came in the form of direct payments to regulators.

Servicers receive $1 in credit for principal reductions but only partial credit for short sales.

Only Ally Financial, which is 74% owned by taxpayers, has fulfilled its total obligations, Smith said, providing $257 million in consumer relief.

Also Thursday, the California Attorney General's Office released an analysis of the national report. It found that California, which has about 12% of the total U.S. population, has received 41% of the national funds.

In California, 43% of the anticipated total relief has come in the form of short sales, and another 13% has involved the forgiveness of second lien debt. Most of the remainder is comprised of first-lien principal reductions.

At the same time the national mortgage settlement was signed, California Attorney General Kamala Harris reached a side deal with Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase that guaranteed her state would receive a hefty share of the national settlement's proceeds.

And that is exactly what happened, according to the analysis by University of California-Irvine law professor Katherine Porter, who is responsible for monitoring banks' compliance with the California agreement.

Her office analyzed the portfolios of Wells Fargo, Chase and B of A and found that for each of those three banks, around 10% to 13% of their first-lien mortgage loans that were either delinquent or in foreclosure were located in California.

Yet at B of A and Chase, more than 30% of the first-lien principal reductions under the national settlement have occurred in California. For Wells Fargo, a whopping 60% of the first-lien principal reductions have benefited California homeowners, according to the analysis.

Porter attributes the fact that Californians have received such a big share of the national settlement largely to the side deal that Attorney General Harris struck with B of A, Chase and Wells Fargo.

"We think the evidence is that the banks understand the importance of the California commitment," she said Thursday.

That's in contrast to what Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who played a lead role in the multi-state negotiations, has argued. Miller maintains that California's side agreement was irrelevant to the amount of relief that Golden State homeowners ultimately received.

Californians have so far received $16.9 billion in consumer relief under the settlement, according to the national monitor's report. By the end of March, that number should rise to around $20.5 billion, according to Porter's analysis, and it could continue to increase.

"I do think the $20.5 billion number is going to creep even higher," Porter said. "I don't expect it to skyrocket."


Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry