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Bank of America tries to reach struggling customers

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Debra Malone is desperate to stop Bank of America from foreclosing on her three-story row house in Lawrenceville. Next week, she will get her shot.

Bank of America will host face-to-face meetings with residents within 60 miles of Pittsburgh who have mortgages with the bank that are delinquent because of economic hardship. The mortgage modification sessions will take place Tuesday and Wednesdayat the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown.

“They claim I owe $13,000 in arrears, and I want to know where this comes from,” said Malone, 50, who claims she paid off her $22,000 mortgage to Countrywide Mortgage before Bank of America bought it in 2008.

“I want this to stop so I can keep my house,” said Malone, who went through personal bankruptcy in 2001 after a house fire.

“Ideally, we'd like to modify any and all troubled mortgages out there,” said Jessica Garcia, vice president of national mortgage outreach for Bank of America. It has notified 2,600 customers in the region of the event, and 46 had registered as of Friday.

The bank holds about 284,000 home mortgages in Pennsylvania, with about 9 percent of them, or 26,700 loans, delinquent for 60 or more days. Garcia could not break out Pittsburgh numbers.

“We have had 13 events like this in Pennsylvania (including Pittsburgh) since 2009 and completed 23,000 loan modifications,” said Garcia.

Bank of America was one of five major banks — along with Ally/GMAC, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — that agreed to a $25 billion legal settlement over mortgage practices early this year. The agreement, with the federal government and 49 states, including Pennsylvania, settled allegations that the banks engaged in robo-signing and other improper mortgage- and foreclosure-related practices.

Bank of America agreed to provide at least $7.6 billion in mortgage modifications and other forms of relief to homeowners, said Garcia.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office said it has received more than 5,200 mortgage-related complaints across the state since 2008, when foreclosures started to spike.

One of the provisions of the settlements was that the banks designate one person to assist a homeowner trying to resolve their troubled mortgage.

“That's an improvement for the big banks to have that single point of contact on a consistent basis, which has not been the case in the past,” said Mary Loftus, vice president of agency services for Advantage Credit Counseling Service's office on the South Side.

“I think Bank of America is making a strong effort to reach their customers and to work with them,” said Loftus, whose service will have a mortgage counselor on-site Tuesday and Wednesday. “The thing that's critical for homeowners is to bring all of their documents.”

Dan Sullivan, a foreclosure prevention specialist at Action-Housing Inc., Downtown, said Bank of America has been “more aggressive” about modifying mortgages because it acquired so many bad loans from Countrywide, then entered the global settlement this year.

“But this event won't be like Bank of America showing up and offering deals and making decisions on the spot,” said Sullivan.

“A lot of times homeowners don't wind up with modifications because they don't follow up with anybody,” he said. “You want to see a mortgage counselor to follow through on the process.”

Bank of America participated in a similar mortgage-modification event Downtown on Sept. 21 and 22 which drew about 75 homeowners and eight other lenders, including Wells Fargo and PNC Bank, said Rebecca Jackson, president of Chance Home Preservation Program, York, which co-sponsored the event. The affordable housing and foreclosure prevention advocate has held eight such events in Pennsylvania.

“It gave everybody a chance to sit down face-to-face with the banks to work things out. Not everybody is computer-literate,” said state Rep. Joseph Preston Jr., D-East Liberty, who co-sponsored the event.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.

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