Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Costs Big Banks Half Of Last Year’s Profits

Today, 49 states joined the federal government in finalizing a $26 billion settlement with five of the nation’s biggest banks over the banks’ foreclosure fraud abuses. The money will be used to aid homeowners, both through direct payments and by reducing mortgage principal for homeowners who find themselves owing more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth.

In terms of the size of the housing problem, as Reuters’ Agnes T. Crane and Daniel Indiviglio noted, $26 billion is a “mathematical drop in the bucket,” considering that homeowners are underwater by some $700 billion. As far as being a knock for the banks, columnist Daniel Pereira noted that the $26 billion is about half what the four publicly traded banks involved in the settlement made in profits last year:

The $26 billion represents a significant settlement, but it clearly won’t stagger the banks too much. Together, the four banks mentioned above took in a total profit of $47.6 billion in 2011. It’s not as if the banks will be paying the settlements out of pure profits, either; they’ve all set aside a fair amount of capital to pay for their mistakes. Still it’s telling that the banks will be paying just about half of their annual profits to walk away from the foreclosure mess.

Several state attorneys general were hesitant to join the settlement, fearing that the terms were too easy on the banks and that the extent of the banks’ fraudulent activities had not been uncovered. As we noted before, the settlement protects the banks from state and federal lawsuits pertaining to some abuses, such as “robo-signing” foreclosure documents, but doesn’t prevent individuals from moving forward with their own individual actions against the banks.

While it certainly won’t be a panacea for all that ails the housing market, it will certainly help those people who, until this point, had little hope of receiving a principal reduction any other way.