As a real estate agent who has successfully negotiated many short sales, I eventually had my short list of horrible lenders to deal with. Green Tree Funding was on that list. Funny story; few years back, I was complaining over the phone to Green Tree about how horrible they were, the woman on the other end of the phone told me I was exaggerating, so I walked around my office with her on the phone and took an impromptu survey. Without explaining to my fellow agents who was on the phone, I asked several of them what they thought of negotiating short sales with Green Tree. As near as I can tell, most of them probably figured I was having a conversation with another Realtor, and they all in run either said that they had not dealt with Green Tree at all, or that they hated dealing with them. One agent, Paul, realized asked me (embarrassed) after he answered if that was Green Tree on the phone.
Well they were just formally punished by the CPFB (Consumer Finance Protection Bureau) for (allegedly) “mistreating borrowers attempting to avoid foreclosure on their homes.” The federal agencies announced last week that they will compel Green Tree to pay a total of $63 million – $48 million in “redress to victims” and an additional $15 million civil penalty – for (allegedly) refusing to honor loan modifications on mortgages transferred from other servicers, demanding payment for the provision of loss mitigation options, and charging borrowers “convenience fees” for pay-by-phone services while presenting those payment services as the only option. Later, Green Tree also (allegedly) withdrew from those same accounts for more payments even though the original payment had been presented as a one-time withdrawal. Green Tree also (allegedly) harassed delinquent borrowers with “anywhere from seven to 20 phone calls per day” when they fell as few as two weeks behind in their payments; these calls included threats of wage garnishment and arrest.
The feds have opted to allow Green Tree to refuse to admit wrongdoing in return for paying through the nose. Richard Cordray, CFPB director, clearly believes that this is the right option in light of the huge payday for the government and the victims. “We are holding Green Tree accountable for its unlawful conduct,” he said in a public statement about the settlement. In the meantime, all entities other than Cordray must continue to refer to the alleged misdeeds as just that, alleged, because Green Tree has not admitted or been convicted of bad behavior.
FTC blogger Lesley Fair recently wrote a column praising the settlement, pointing out that the move will encourage other loan servicers to actually service loans rather than “making misleading statements about what people owe, [causing] deceptive delays, and [making] unauthorized withdrawals from [borrowers] accounts.” Since many customer complaints hinge on Green Tree’s refusal to correct “iffy information” in new loan portfolios, the company also has promised to institute a “comprehensive data integrity program” designed to make sure customer accounts hold the right information and are being handled appropriately. I am not as optimistic as Lesley.