Mortgage deal brought homeowners $45 billion in relief

Five top U.S. banks have given $45.8 billion worth of relief to struggling homeowners under a 2012 federal-state settlement to resolve mortgage abuses, according to a report released Thursday by a monitor of that agreement.

The majority of the help provided by Bank of America Corp , JPMorgan Chase & Co , Citigroup Inc , Wells Fargo & Co and Ally Financial Inc came as short sales and modifications of second loans.

The banks completed $19.5 billion in short sales, which are generally more favorable to homeowners than foreclosures, and $11.6 billion in second lien modifications and extinguishments, the report said.

In a short sale, a bank accepts less than the total amount a borrower owes on a mortgage in order to avoid foreclosing on the property.

Under a settlement reached in February 2012 with the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state attorneys general, the banks agreed to fund about $20 billion in consumer relief, with the majority of that earmarked to help distressed borrowers stay in their homes.

The banks have not necessarily met their obligations, however, because the settlement only provides for partial credit for certain kinds of relief, including short sales.

Slightly more than 320,000 borrowers received some type of assistance that helped them keep their homes, including a loan modification or refinancing help, which totaled about $24.7 billion, or $76,500 per borrower, the report said.

The settlement terms were designed to push banks to reduce mortgage balances for struggling borrowers, and the banks appear to have made some progress on that front. They forgave $7.4 billion in loan principal for about 70,000 borrowers, the report said, with an average of $105,000 shaved off for each borrower.

Under the settlement, banks were also encouraged to meet their obligations within the first year, to speed relief to the struggling housing sector.

Last week, monitor Joe Smith said Ally had satisfied its requirement to provide $200 million in modifications and other consumer relief under the settlement.

The lender and its subsidiaries were credited with providing more than its requirement - $257.4 million in assistance - but are still required to solicit borrowers for the program and provide help if they request it.

In the report, Smith said other banks had also asked this week for him to certify that they had met their obligations, but he did not name the companies.

Under the settlement, which resolved allegations of bank misconduct in processing foreclosures and servicing home loans, the companies are also required to comply with a new set of servicing standards.

"I'm encouraged by the consumer relief piece of the settlement," Smith said in an interview. "I'm satisfied we've got a good infrastructure set up to monitor the banks going forward on the servicing standards, and I understand there's still work to do on that."

In the report, Smith said he had received more than 5,700 complaints since last May from consumers whose loans are serviced by the five banks. Most of those complaints stemmed from problems in the loan modification process or with customer service.

Smith said he expected to provide information about the banks' compliance with the servicing standards in a report due later in the spring.

(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha and Rick Rothacker; Editing by Alden Bentley and Lisa Von Ahn)