Settlement ends mortgage probe of Wells Fargo

THURSDAY, OCT. 7, 2010

States said lender acquired deceptive loans

Wells Fargo is paying $24 million to end an investigation by Washington and seven other states probing whether lenders acquired by the company made risky mortgages to consumers without disclosing their perils.

The states said loans known as option adjustable rate loans, or “pick-a-payment” mortgages, were deceptive to borrowers. Those particularly toxic loans allowed borrowers to defer some of their interest payments and add them to the principal balance. Borrowers could make payments so low that loan debt actually increased every month.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. announced the agreement Wednesday with attorneys general in Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas.

The loans were made by Wachovia Corp. and a California company it acquired, World Savings Bank. Wells purchased Wachovia at the end of 2008. Wachovia had already stopped making those loans before the acquisition was complete.

As part of the agreement, Wells has agreed to offer loan assistance worth more than $770 million to more than 8,700 borrowers through June 2013, though that amount will depend on how the economy fares during that time. The $24 million will be used to help states reach out to customers who took out such loans.

At least 400 Washington borrowers who received these mortgages will be eligible for loan modifications that will provide more than $29 million in mortgage relief, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said. This sum includes nearly $12 million in principal forgiveness for Washington homeowners.

The agreement includes no admission of wrongdoing by Wells Fargo. The states’ investigation centered on allegations that consumers were misled about the possibility that their mortgage amounts would increase.

Such “pick-a-payment” loans were made by many large lenders during the housing boom, but have defaulted in massive numbers after the market went bust.

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