Countrywide Settlement Hopeful: 'I Felt Smothered'

Gear, 32, may be one of the lucky ones. Through the help of a consumer advocacy group, she managed to obtain a 30-year fixed mortgage with Countrywide with a lower interest rate. (Bank of America now owns her loan.)

But today, a couple of unfortunate circumstances -- the decline in her hairstyling business and a fire at her condo building -- have left Gear struggling to keep up with her monthly mortgage payments yet again. She said she's trying to get her loan modified. In the meantime, she said, even a minor payment from the FTC settlement would help.

"I want my cut," she said.

Michelle Byrum, 46, is another former Countrywide customer who hopes she'll be eligible for the settlement. Byrum, from Roseville, Michigan, said that she and her husband ended up paying some $2,000 in default-related service fees when they fell behind on their mortgage payments in 2007.

Byrum and her husband are both out of work and are trying to short-sell their house. Any payment from the settlement probably won't help them save their home, she said, "but it'll help us move."

Small Cash Awards, Big Message

The FTC Countrywide settlement may be the largest of its kind, but it's not the first settlement over deceptive mortgage lending practices since the collapse of the housing market. In March, for instance, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $6.1 million settlement with two subsidiaries of AIG over allegations that they charged higher mortgage fees to African-American borrowers.

Kathleen Day, of the Center for Responsible Lending, said that value of such settlements isn't necessarily in how they compensate victims of deceptive lending but rather in the message that they send.

"All these amounts of money are small in comparison to the billions of dollars in lost equity, in homes people have lost and the pain and suffering beyond that," she said. "But it hopefully sends a signal that the federal government is going to do more to police against unfair and deceptive practices."

Dorman, while emphasizing that some consumers may see significant amounts in compensation, also stressed the settlement's implications for the mortgage industry.

"We want the message to get to the mortgage servicing industry -- this will not be tolerated, these kinds of practices are against the law and we will be pursuing any activity like this that we find in the future," he said.

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