Bank of America Boosts Staff Handling Troubled Loans

Bank of America Corp., the second-largest U.S. home lender, added 2,000 employees since April to work with borrowers having trouble paying their mortgages, a senior executive said.

The lender now has more than 18,000 workers in “default management,” a 60 percent increase since January 2009, Barbara Desoer, president of Bank of America’s home-loan and insurance unit, said in testimony prepared for a congressional hearing on U.S. housing policy tomorrow. Those workers handle 100,000 calls a day, she said.

Wells Fargo & Co., the largest U.S. home lender, Bank of America and other companies have hired thousands of employees or shifted staff from other departments to work with borrowers who have lost jobs or experienced declining incomes. Banks repossessed a record 257,944 homes in the first quarter, 35 percent more than a year earlier, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc. More than a fifth of U.S. mortgage holders owed more than their homes were worth, Seattle- based real estate data provider reported last month.

“Given the depth of the nation’s recessionary impacts on homeowners, a considerable number of customers will transition from homeownership over the next two years,” Desoer said in the testimony. “We must compassionately and responsibly help those customers who have exhausted all their options and can no longer afford to stay in their homes.”

Handling More Calls

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, handles almost 14 million home loans, or about one of every five U.S. mortgages, more than any other U.S. servicer, Desoer said. Payments on 1.4 million loans are more than 60 days late, she said. Investors or government-sponsored entities such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae own most of those loans and pay servicers fees to handle billing and collection.

Banks are adding employees to deal with a growing volume of calls and the complexity of programs that modify loans by extending maturities, reducing interest rates or cutting principal balances, Bank of America and other lenders have said. Bank of America has reported $8.4 billion in losses in its home-loan unit since 2008 because of higher defaults.

Bank of America is stalling foreclosures until borrowers exhaust efforts to modify terms or make other arrangements to resolve the loan, such as a short sale or deed-in-lieu transaction, Desoer said. In a short sale, a home is sold at a price less than the balance owed. In a deed-in-lieu transaction, borrowers hand over properties without going through lengthy legal processes.

Top housing executives from Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc., and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are scheduled to appear with Desoer at tomorrow’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.

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