The FICO credit score and strategic default


Syzmbark, Poland, features a truly upside-down house. More typical is homeowners with upside-down mortgages. Many of these owners are walking away from their homes with "strategic foreclosures."
Considered a viable strategy for managing troubled assets in an era of high unemployment, record foreclosures and government bailouts, millions of Americans are considering strategic defaults.

With almost 12 million mortgages underwater, a growing number of homeowners are simply walking away from the places they call home.

Strategic defaults, also known as strategic foreclosures, often take mortgage lenders by surprise because homeowners generally have had excellent credit histories and have previously met all their other financial obligations.

One of the distinguishing factors between a strategic default and other mortgage defaults is that the strategic default is a deliberate business decision. The homeowner has the ability to make payments but simply decides not to because the property value is less than the balance owed on the mortgage.

According to a recent Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Report, strategic mortgage defaults rose 53 percent to 355,000 foreclosures in the first half of 2009. Prior studies found that 588,000 strategic defaults occurred in 2008, double the number that took place in 2007.

The number of strategic defaults is predicted to double again by the first quarter of 2013.

With more and more homeowners contemplating strategic default, mortgage lenders have sought out predictive indicators to discourage and prevent them by utilizing advanced credit scoring technologies.

A dynamic three-digit number reflecting an individual’s ability to repay debt, credit scores are assigned by the Fair Isaac Corporation. Credit scores play a crucial role in determining whether a borrower is eligible for a loan, the loan amount, interest rates and repayment terms.

Fair Isaac — the creator of the widely-used FICO credit score — recently introduced an enhanced version of its popular scoring model, the FICO 8 Mortgage Score. This enhanced model has made it more difficult for most consumers to secure mortgage loans.

Enhanced to better anticipate consumer behavior amid the foreclosure crisis, the FICO 8 Mortgage Score has been fine-tuned with predictive powers to assist lenders in determining which borrowers are most likely to strategically default.

Predicted to save over $1 billion by preventing 115,000 foreclosures, FICO officials claim their new model is 15- to 25-percent more accurate in predicting strategic defaults than its predecessor.

“The FICO 8 Mortgage Score’s broad availability means that all U.S. lenders and servicers can now easily access scores that are fine-tuned for mortgage performance,” said Jordan Graham, executive VP of Scores and president of Consumer Services at FICO. “By combining this superior predictive performance with the FICO Economic Impact Service, lenders are able to adjust policies and strategies quickly based upon forward-looking economic modeling.

“This is what we mean by the FICO analytic advantage: the ability to use the most advanced predictive analytics to compete and win in this highly challenging environment.”

In addition to having drastically reduced home values on an underwater mortgage, researchers have found other distinct character traits that identify potential strategic defaulters making this decision. Strategic defaulters typically have higher FICO scores, lower revolving balances, fewer instances of exceeding limits on credit cards and lower overall retail credit card usage.

In fact, their behavior is almost opposite to those of distressed defaulters. Strategic defaulters default “because they believe it is in their best financial interest, and because they believe the consequences will be minimal,” said FICO labs head and FICO chief analytics officer Dr. Andrew Jennings. Homeowners plan ahead for the credit hit they will take upon default by purchasing a car, new house and opening new credit cards before they “do the math and walk.”

“Many homeowners are being told to stop paying their mortgages,” said Carlos Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “Homeowners should consider their rights and contemplate the long-ranging consequences of such an action. Making the decision to simply walk away may not be in their best interest.”

Strategic default may make “walking away” from a bad debt seem like a good thing, but it can have long-ranging consequences. Absent a deficiency judgment, homeowners will certainly suffer with lower credit scores and a drastically reduced ability to secure future credit. Higher interest rates and unfavorable terms could end up costing more in the long run than continuing to pay on an upside-down mortgage.

“Homeowners should explore all their options before strategically defaulting,” said Reyes.

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Servicers


While negotiations continue between mortgage servicers and the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group, enforcement action has been taken by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) against 14 U.S. bank and two third-party mortgage servicers.

Amid allegations of unsafe and unsound practices in the processing of foreclosures, enforcement action has been taken against bank servicers: Ally Financial, Aurora Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, Citigroup, EverBank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife Bank, OneWest Bank, PNC, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo and third-party servicers: Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), and MERSCORP also known as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS).

“These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. “These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward.”

As part of the enforcement action by the OCC, OTS and FRB, servicers must significantly improve residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.  This includes borrower communication and “dual-tracking,” which will prohibit foreclosure during the loan modification process. 

Mortgage servicers are also required to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing that were identified by examiners in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Each mortgage servicer must, among other things, submit plans acceptable to the FRB that:

►Strengthen coordination of communications with borrowers by providing them with the name of the person who is their primary point of contact at the servicer;

►Ensure that foreclosures are not pursued once a mortgage modification has been approved, unless repayments under the modified loan are not made;

►Establish robust controls and oversight over the activities of third-party vendors that provide residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, or foreclosure-related support, including local counsel in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings;

►Provide remediation to borrowers who have suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in their review of the foreclosure process; and

►Strengthen their programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding mortgage servicing and the processing of foreclosures.

“This settlement provides that if you’re negotiating or in the midst of a trial modification, a lender is prohibited from seizing the property,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Defense attorneys now have a basis to go forward to try and save a property in litigation with the additional argument that failing to modify or settle is a breach of the lender settlement with federal regulators.”

The enforcement action is based upon an OCC, OTS and FRB review of foreclosure practices that found mortgage servicers “failed to conform to state legal requirements.”  The review stopped short at robo-signing and other forms of document fraud.  It did not investigate the illegal imposition of fees, the failure to comply with loan modification requirements or other alleged servicer abuses.  In fact, federal regulators only reviewed a small sample of loan files containing key information on foreclosure practices.

Many believe that the settlement by federal regulators will undermine the investigation of foreclosure fraud by the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group.  Initially, there were hopes of a “global settlement” covering state and federal regulators, but the agencies, led by the OCC, broke off and delivered their own enforcement action.  

While federal regulators and the various state attorneys general maintain this enforcement action will not affect the AG probe or ongoing negotiations, mortgage servicers can now report they have been punished for alleged violations of law.  Although an independent review is determining damages, they may reject any additional settlement since they have already been punished by their regulators.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

FTC Sues Florida Loan Modification Firm


Continuing their crackdown on scam artists that prey upon delinquent homeowners facing foreclosure, the Federal Trade Commission has charged a national operation with marketing bogus loan modification services. The FTC has sought to stop their illegal practices and force payment of restitution to victims.

Based in Palm Beach County, U.S. Mortgage Funding Inc., Debt Remedy Partners Inc., LowerMyDebts.com LLC, David Mahler, Jamen Lachs, and John Incandela, Jr., also known as Jonathan Incandela, Jr., allegedly violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by falsely claiming they could obtain loan modifications that would drastically reduce mortgage payments for distressed homeowners.  

They also allegedly misrepresented approval and affiliation with mortgage lenders and falsely claimed they would fully refund homeowners money if they failed to receive a loan modification.

According to the FTC’s complaint, distressed homeowners were targeted using direct mail, the Internet, and telemarketing.  Homeowners were falsely promised a loan modification that would reduce their monthly mortgage payments, while being promised a full refund if they failed.  Promises were also made to homeowners whose lenders had previously denied them loan modifications or who had been sent foreclosure notices.  Claiming a success rate of almost 100%, homeowners were charged up to $2,600 and typically requested for half of the fee upfront.

The defendants claimed expertise that enabled them to prevent foreclosure and often mislead homeowners that they were affiliated with or approved by lenders.  They advised homeowners not to contact their lenders and to stop making mortgage payments, claiming that falling behind on payments would demonstrate a hardship to lenders.

In addition, the defendants allegedly violated the FTC Rule by calling numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, and for not paying the required annual fee for accessing numbers within the Registry.

In 2009, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill SB 2226, making significant changes to Florida’s mortgage brokerage law.  The law – Chapter 494, Florida Statutes – specifically covered negotiation of existing loans as being the duty of a licensed mortgage broker.  As of January 1, 2010, any individual or business attempting to negotiate a loan or mortgage modification must be licensed through the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.  Additionally, new disclosures are required such as large-type print on contracts and a three-day rescission period.

“The days of simply opening up shop and starting a loan modification business have come to an end in Florida,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must be licensed as a mortgage broker by the OFR in order to conduct business and cannot charge advance fees.”

The FTC recently issued the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, that prohibits mortgage foreclosure and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender that they personally find acceptable. As the defendants’ advertisements predated this new Rule, the FTC did not allege violations in this case.

To learn more about the action taken against U.S. Mortgage Funding Inc., Debt Remedy Partners Inc., Lower My Debts.com LLC, or to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, visit www.ftc.gov or call (877) FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

To learn more about mortgage fraud or the loan modification process in Florida or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226). 

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

Original Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group:  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/mar/13/ftc-sues-florida-loan-modification-firm/columns-welewisjr/

Strategic Default and the FICO or VantageScore


Strategic default is a conscious decision to walk away from a mortgage that is underwater. These defaults take lenders by surprise as borrowers often have excellent credit records and meet all of their other financial obligations. The point of a strategic default is to cut losses on a home that has substantially depreciated in value and negative equity that can never be recovered.

Considered as a viable strategy for managing troubled assets in an era of record foreclosures, high unemployment, and government bail-outs, millions of Americans are considering strategic default or strategic foreclosure. With almost 28 percent of all mortgages underwater, a growing number of homeowners are contemplating this strategy.

While borrowers are contemplating strategic default, lenders are seeking predictive indicators to prevent them through advanced credit scoring technologies.

A dynamic number reflecting an individual’s ability to repay, credit scores are assigned by companies like Fair Issac or VantageScore. They play a critical role in determining where an individual is eligible for a loan, the loan amount, interest rates and repayment terms.

Fair Isaac, creator of the widely-used FICO score, recently introduced an enhanced version of its popular scoring model, the FICO 8 Mortgage Score. This model will make it tougher for most consumers to secure mortgage loans.

Offered as a credit rating product directly by the Equifax, Experian and Trans Union consumer reporting agencies, and not nearly as popular, the VantageScore is also undergoing significant changes.

Both credit-scoring models have been enhanced to better anticipate consumer behavior amid a foreclosure crisis and tough economic times. Specifically, they have fine-tuned their predictive powers to assist lenders in determining which borrowers are likely to strategically default.

According to a recent Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Report, strategic defaults rose 53 percent in the first half of 2009, to 355,000 foreclosures. Previous studies found that 588,000 strategic defaults occurred in 2008, double the level that took place in 2007.

“Many borrowers are being advised to stop paying their mortgages,” says Carlos Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “Making the decision to simply walk away is bad for the homeowner. Borrowers should consider their rights and contemplate the long ranging consequences of such an action.”

While the details of FICO and VantageScore credit scoring models are proprietary, some facets of each are known.

Fair Issac introduced the FICO 8 Mortgage Score in October 2010. VantageScore 2.0 will be introduced next month.

Claiming to save in excess of $1 billion by helping to prevent 115,000 foreclosures, FICO officials indicate their new model is 15% to 25% more accurate in predicting strategic defaults than its predecessor.

“The FICO 8 Mortgage Score’s broad availability means that all U.S. lenders and servicers can now easily access scores that are fine-tuned for mortgage performance,” said Jordan Graham, executive VP of Scores and president of Consumer Services at FICO. “Moreover, by combining this superior predictive performance with the FICO Economic Impact Service, lenders are able to adjust policies and strategies quickly based upon forward-looking economic modeling. This is what we mean by the FICO analytic advantage: the ability to use the most advanced predictive analytics to compete and win in this highly challenging environment.”

When the VantageScore debuted in 2006, it was based on an analysis of 21 million credit files over a two-year period. To devise its new scoring model, dubbed VantageScore 2.0, the company examined a larger set of credit data over a longer period of time.

VantageScore 2.0 is based upon an analysis of 45 million active credit reports. Those reports came from 15 million anonymous consumers whose credit histories were examined across the Equifax, Experian and Trans Union consumer reporting agencies. VantageScore’s updated scoring system also covers overlapping three-year time periods from 2006 to 2008 and 2007 to 2009 to account before and after the recession.

As a result, the improved VantageScore 2.0 has been dubbed a “recession-era credit scoring model.”

“We’ve recently experienced a variety of economic scenarios, including an increase in foreclosures in the housing market and changing payment hierarchy among consumers,” said Barrett Burns, President and CEO of VantageScore Solutions. “Building VantageScore 2.0 using a blend of consumer behaviors from 2006-2009 produces greater score stability over time.”

For consumers, what is most important about the improved VantageScore is that it places more emphasis on certain areas of your credit behavior, and less emphasis on others.

The single biggest change with VantageScore 2.0 is that shopping for credit or opening new accounts could impact more than it had previously. Under VantageScore 2.0, recent credit activities, such as submitting new credit applications, now account for 30% of the score. Under VantageScore 1.0, inquiries and recent credit activities comprised just 10% of the score.

Likewise, account balances and length of credit history are of less significance under VantageScore 2.0. They now account for 9% and 8%, while under VantageScore 1.0, they accounted for 15% and 13% of the score.

FICO scores range from 300 to 850 points. The VantageScore ranges from 501 to 990 points. Even though I manage credit wisely, I was recently surprised to learn that my FICO score from Equifax was 837 while my VantageScore was an almost perfect at 988.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group. http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/dec/05/strategic-default-and-the-fico-or-vantagescore/

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Strategic Foreclosure 101 – Walking Away From Your Home


Many Americans are wondering how to deal with an underwater mortgage in these tough economic times.  Florida has been hit harder by the housing crisis than any other state in the nation. While some can afford to continue making payments on their home, many across the state have been pushed into foreclosure as home values have decreased anywhere from 15 to 55 percent or more.

Aside from a loan modification, we have all heard the terms foreclosure, short-sale, and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. Each of these terms spells trouble for the homeowner – loss of home, reduced credit score, and negative social stigma. Although lenders in February filed fewer foreclosure actions in Florida compared to a year earlier, a new strategy is on the horizon, an idea coined “strategic foreclosure.”

If you purchased your home at the peak of the real estate market from 2004 to 2006, your value has substantially dropped. Although irrelevant to some borrowers as they can afford the payment and plan on residing in their home for a decade or more, others have simply stopped paying in the hope of forcing a short-sale or reduction in principal.

Should you walk away from your mortgage even if you can afford to pay? Millions of Americans are asking themselves that same question. Some borrowers feel they have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to make payments notwithstanding a substantial drop in value. With almost half of the residential mortgages in Florida underwater, a growing number of individuals are contemplating walking away from the place they call home.

If you can resolve yourself to possible litigation and a lower credit score for several years, walking away may be a smart business decision. Right now, only a small percentage of borrowers are contemplating this technique. A recent study, though, found that approximately 32 percent of homeowners nationwide would consider walking away from their mortgage if the value of their home continues to decrease.

While “strategic foreclosure” makes perfect economic sense, many homeowners do not choose this course of action out of shame, guilt and fear. Underwater homeowners continue to stress over their mortgage payments to avoid the consequence of foreclosure and a perceived negative social stigma within the community. This is especially so when a borrower has the financial ability to pay.

Although almost 17.4 million homes nationwide are underwater, one must consider the adverse implications of “strategic foreclosure” before walking away. First, and foremost, is the loss of your home. Have you purchased the home across the street at half the amount of your current mortgage? Do you plan on renting? Are you aware that a “strategic foreclosure” will have the same impact on your credit score as a loan modification, judicial foreclosure, short-sale, or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure? Are you aware that you can be sued for any deficiency balance on your home?

“Borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages would be better off financially if they walked away from their homes,” says Scott Kleiman, a foreclosure defense attorney with Kalis & Kleiman. “They don’t because of their moral and ethical obligation to pay their mortgages.”

Borrowers who had a good credit history before they walk away through “strategic foreclosure” can usually rebuild their good name and reputation within a couple of years. In a recent study commissioned by the global information services company Experian, approximately 588,000 borrowers nationwide simply walked away from their homes in 2008. This is up 128 percent over 2007. From all indications, 2010 will be a banner year as the social stigma of foreclosure and simply walking away from your home will have dissolved amid the mortgage meltdown.

Just like former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Brian Austin Green – who has advanced a “strategic foreclosure” strategy in an effort to short-sale his $2 million Hollywood Hills home – you too can ride the wave of the future.

As a homeowner, you can afford to make your mortgage payments but are underwater to the point of no return. As a borrower, the American dream of owning a home is lost as it will maintain negative equity for a decade or more. “Strategic foreclosure” may be the first step toward a short-sale and walking away from yourhome.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/mar/14/lc-strategic-foreclosure-101/columns-welewisjr/

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

Loan Modification Licensure in Florida – an Industry no Longer Without Regulation


The days of simply opening up shop and starting a loan modification business have come to an end in Florida. Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must now be licensed as a mortgage broker by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) in order to conduct business.

The Florida Legislature recently passed Senate Bill SB 2226. This law makes significant changes to Florida’s mortgage brokerage law — Chapter 494, Florida Statutes — effective Jan. 1, 2010. In particular, the new law specifically covers negotiation of existing loans as being part of the duties of a mortgage broker. Any individual or business attempting to negotiate a loan mortgage modification will now be required to obtain a license through OFR. Additionally, there are new disclosures required in order to perform a loan modification — large type print on contracts and a three day rescission period are among a few of the changes.

The new law also requires “loan originators” to obtain a license. Prior to the amended law, there was a large loophole that allowed salaried employees of a mortgage broker to act as loan originators and still receive compensation for bringing a borrower and lender together. Although this section of the law phases in on October 1, 2010, hundreds of individuals have submitted applications to the OFR to become compliant.

The new law was sparked by hundreds of complaints filed with the state attorney general’s office in Tallahassee. While only 59 complaints were filed in 2008, the number skyrocketed to approximately 3,750 in 2009, according to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who recently appeared on the Credit Report with Bill Lewis on AM 1470 WWNN.

In an effort to combat the rampant increase in foreclosure rescue scams within an industry previously unregulated, General McCollum sued three foreclosure rescue firms — and the attorneys who worked for them — alleging that they charged advance “qualifying payments” as high as $1,299 to perform loan modifications in violation of state law. Filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on December 17, 2009, the suit also claims the company required clients to establish escrow accounts for additional fees and deceived them by implying the money was for legal representation.

After receiving numerous complaints — the majority originating from consumers outside Florida — the attorney general began investigating Kirkland Young LLC in July, 2009. State regulators soon realized that the business was affiliated with ABK Consultants Inc. and Attorney Aid LLC, which were also named in the suit. Although located in Miami-Dade, the businesses solicited customers nationwide. The legal action seeks to shut down the three companies, a $10,000 fine for each violation of state law, as well as restitution for consumers scammed in the process. Although in receivership, Kirkland Young has also been sued by the Federal Trade Commission.

Through Jan. 31, 2010 South Florida ranks fourth in the nation for home loan modifications, with 37,451 under President Barack Obama’s Making Home Affordable Program. Nationwide, 24 percent of the 3.3 million homes with distressed loans have been modified, according to a U.S. Department of the Treasury report. While the new law is not going to eliminate loan modification scams completely, it should make them more difficult. In 2009, the Mortgage Fraud Task Force was handling more than 200 cases of loan modification fraud. In 2008, the South Florida field office of the FBI had the second-highest number of mortgage fraud reports in the country with 5,155 reported instances.

For more information or to file a complaint, visit Attorney General Bill McCollum’s Web site at www.myfloridalegal.com.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/feb/07/loan-modification-licensure-florida-industry-no-lo/columns-welewisjr/