While Citigroup has completed just a small fraction of the consumer relief required by a settlement over faulty mortgage securities, the company has earned considerable extra credit as it looks to satisfy terms of the agreement.
Citi, through March 31, has earned credit for about $163 million of the $2.5 billion in consumer relief it agreed to provide as part of a July 2014 settlement with the Justice Department and five states, based on a report issued Thursday by the settlement monitor. Citi has until the end of 2018 to provide the full amount, according to the settlement's terms.
The amount represents the monitor's calculation of the value of loan forgiveness, interest-rate reductions and refinancing Citi has provided customers, plus bonus credit. The settlement allows Citi to earn extra credit a several ways, such as completing loan modifications early or reducing loan-to-value ratios below certain levels.
In fact, Citi has earned about $30 million in extra credit so far, based on the monitor's information.
The actual value of the relief provided, without bonus credit, is roughly $132 million. The vast majority of that sum has come through refinancing customers' mortgages rather than principal forgiveness.
A Citi representative said in an emailed statement that the company is "pleased with [its] progress under the terms of the settlement agreement" and "remains committed to assisting distressed borrowers in their efforts to avoid potential foreclosure."
An earlier report by the settlement monitor, Thomas Perrelli of Jenner & Block, questioned how much relief provided by Citi had really benefiting consumers. But in Thursday's report, Perrelli, a former associate U.S. attorney general, confirmed Citi's compliance and generally deferred until later any questions on whether the relief is really helping the company's customers.
The settlement, for instance, required Citi to hold consumer-outreach events to let customers know that they may be entitled to loan modifications, in addition to giving them in-person assistance applying for relief.
So far, Citi has invited more than 10,000 customers to eight events it has held in major cities across the country. In total, those events resulted in just eight successful applications for loan relief.
Perrelli pointed out that that the events may lead to more relief in the future. The effectiveness of the events "must be measured over a period of months," he wrote, because attendees rarely bring all the necessary documentation and applications take time to process.
Perrelli also raised the possibility that Citi was getting credit for relief it would have provided even without the settlement, though he argued that, in general, it is too soon to say. A common criticism of Citi's and other mortgage settlements is that they give banks credit for refinancing mortgages, even though refis have become routine and are often in banks' own interests. Interest-rate reductions are by far the biggest portion of the consumer relief Citi has provided so far.
Perrelli argued that refis do appear to provide real benefit, but left the hard analysis for later.
"A common question is why Citi should be entitled to any credit for refinancing of loans, given that many borrowers have had no trouble refinancing in this era of historically low interest rates; indeed, some borrowers are besieged by offers to refinance," Perrelli wrote. "But for a substantial population of homeowners, refinancing is difficult or simply not an option."
This population includes those who are significantly underwater or delinquent on their mortgages, he wrote.
However, Perrelli noted that the settlement doesn't require Citi to target borrowers who would be otherwise unable to refinance. He will examine the real impact of consumers on the refinance credit "in the coming months and years," he said.