Richmond, VA-based Suntrust Mortgage will pay out $21 million to more than 20,000 African-American and Hispanic home loan borrowers to settle a federal government suit charging discriminatory mortgage pricing from 2005 to 2009. The lawsuit charged Suntrust with violating the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
This settlement comes on the heels of a settlement last December by Countrywide Financial Corp. and subsidiaries for $335 million for similar loans made between 2004 and 2008. Currently under investigation by the Department of Justice is Wells Fargo & Co.
“At the core (of the suit) is a simple story: If you are African-American or Latino, you likely paid more for a SunTrust loan than equally or similarly qualified white borrowers,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general for the civil rights division, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a May 31, 2011conference call. “You paid what amounted to a racial surtax,” ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per borrower,” he told the newspaper.
The problem arose because of the way loan officers and mortgage brokers were incentivized, according to the lawsuit. The discriminatory charges (probably “yield spread premiums”) boosted the commission for the loan agent when he or she could obtain an inflated price for a loan. Furthermore, the bank gave the loan officers and brokers free reign to do so by giving them broad discretion on prices beyond what should have been charged based on the customer’s credit profile alone.
The investigation took two and half years and involved the review of more than 850,000 residential loans. Under the terms of the settlement, Suntrust will hire an independent administrator to contact the victims. Mailings are expected to begin at the end of this year. Suntrust admitted no wrong-doing.
The payout will average about $1,000 per person. However, in the opinion of this author, that will not nearly compensate the actual loss to many of the victims. Our law office has seen many who had homes with equity, refinanced during the height of the market, and then ended up losing both the equity and the home upon the collapse of the economy.
It’s a sad state of affairs.