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JPMorgan, BofA take heat for foreclosure program

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders are not doing enough to help Americans avoid foreclosure, the Obama administration said Thursday.

The Treasury Department said that Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have done a poor job helping people permanently lower their mortgage payments as part of the government’s signature foreclosure-prevention program. The lenders have rejected people who were eligible for mortgage modifications, Treasury said.

The government first criticized the two lenders, along with Wells Fargo & Co. and Ocwen Loan Servicing, in June, and began withholding financial incentives of up to $1,000 per permanent loan modification.

Wells Fargo and Ocwen were removed from the list of companies needing “substantial improvement” in the second quarter and will resume receiving the incentives.

The mortgage-aid program was launched in 2009 and was intended to help those at risk of foreclosure by lowering their monthly payments. Borrowers start with lower payments on a trial basis. But the program has struggled to convert them into permanent loan modifications.

Nearly 1.7 million troubled homeowners received trial modifications over the past two years. But as of July, more than half of them, or roughly 890,000 homeowners, have dropped out of the program entirely.

Homeowners have complained that the program is a bureaucratic mess. Many say they were disqualified after banks lost their documents and failed to return their phone calls. Banks have blamed homeowners for failing to submit needed paperwork. Some lenders have disputed the government’s data, saying the findings are based on old reports.

Those who are accepted into the program receive interest rates as low as 2 percent for five years. They can repay their loans over a longer period. The median savings for those who remain in the program is about $525 per month.