Bank of America Reaches Record Settlement with Justice Department, and Taxpayers Cover the Costs

Over the past year, the Justice Department has reached multiple settlements with the country’s largest financial institutions regarding their involvement in the 2008 financial crisis. JP Morgan Chase forked over $13 billion this past November, Citigroup settled for $7 billion this July, and now Bank of America will pay a record $16.65 to the DOJ. While all of these settlements involved the sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unknowing investors, the recent case is different. Under the guise of providing relief to homeowners who have lost their houses, BofA will actually stick the taxpayer with a bill of up to $5.8 billion for their wrongdoings. The settlement, reached last Thursday, is unique in that it actually allows Bank of America to write-off most of the cost as a tax deduction. Previous settlements with similar large banks contained more restrictions on this practice, but BofA will be able to treat the payment as if it were just another operating cost, for tax purposes. Approximately $5 billion of the grand total is considered a “civil penalty.” Typically, money paid to resolve a civil penalty cannot be written off as a business expense, but a tenth circuit court ruled earlier this month that businesses may write off penalties such as these as a “compensatory cost.” If Bank of America doesn’t try to write off these $5 billion of civil penalties, the other $11.63 billion portion of the settlement will still stick the taxpayer […]

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Citigroup Reaches $7 Billion Settlement with Justice Department, but What’s Really Been Settled?

On Monday, July 14, Citibank agreed to pay a $7 billion settlement related to sub-prime mortgage-backed securities sold to investors during the lead up to the financial crisis of 2008. The settlement results from a Justice Department effort to crack down on the complex and risky behaviors that led Wall Street to the brink of collapse in 2008. While the overwhelming majority of Americans want to hold bankers accountable for gambling on peoples’ livelihoods, the recent settlements don’t represent a real victory for the population. If we break down the structure of the most recent settlement, it’s easy to see why. Citi agreed to pay a total of $7 billion dollars to end a DOJ inquiry into its involvement in the financial crisis. Citi will pay $4.5 billion in cash, and $2.5 billion to provide relief to struggling homeowners and low-income tenants in the form of restructured mortgages. Of the $4.5 billion cash payment, $4 billion will go to the Justice Department as a civil penalty. The other $500 million will be paid as fees to state Attorneys General and to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). There are a few reasons why this settlement looks more like a PR stunt than Citi actually trying to right any wrongdoing. First of all, the majority of the settlement will go to the agencies doing the prosecution, pretty much to spend at their discretion. The prosecuting agencies do not represent the true […]

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Megabanks can afford to break the rules, but can the economy afford the risk?

Recent high-profile settlements involving some of the nation’s largest banks have consumers scratching their heads. Since 2012, banking giants like Chase and Bank of America have come under fire from regulators in an effort to discourage the kind of egregious behavior that drove the economy to the brink of collapse in 2008. While the sums collected thus far by regulators appear to be huge, they are little more than a drop in the bucket for the megabanks. Have a look at some examples of the fines and settlements these banks have reached so far: Bank of America has paid over $15 billion since 2007 to settle claims related to the financial crisis, including $11.6 billion to Fannie Mae in 2012 to resolve repurchase claims related to bad mortgages between 2000 and 2008. Since October of 2012, American Express has refunded approximately $144.5 million to 585,000 customers for deceptive marketing regarding add-on products like payment protection and credit monitoring, as well as charging unlawful late fees to customers’ accounts. Capital One paid $210 million to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in 2012 to reimburse customers that they deceptively charged for unnecessary services like credit monitoring, generally targeting unemployed people and those with poor credit. Last year, Citi paid almost $1 billion to Fannie Mae resolving claims over nearly 3.7 million subprime mortgages it sold. In addition to paying $1.32 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over subprime mortgages, Wells Fargo […]

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Mega-banks: More than just Banks

One of Green America’s goals is to teach consumers how the businesses you choose to support can have a big impact on the world around you. From the food we buy each week, to the clothes we wear, to the energy we use to heat and power our homes – on almost all levels of the economy, we have a choice between companies that operate with an awareness of the effects of their presence on the world, and companies that pursue the goal of growth over anything else. And while it is easy to see the negative impacts of massive agricultural engineering companies, clothing companies’ sweatshops in faraway countries, and dirty international oil companies, the financial services industry influences nearly every sector of the economy – often with serious implications for people and the planet. And as banks actually sell very few tangible products, it is more difficult to recognize that our choices can drastically affect our environment and our communities. To give an example, let us look at commodities: the raw materials for nearly every product you can buy. Recent news coverage of the banking industry has revealed that large investment institutions like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have been spending their money on warehouses. As in the large empty buildings where industrial materials, like aluminum and copper are kept before manufacturers buy them to produce goods. Why would a bank be interested in owning a warehouse? There are […]

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“Dad, What’s a Financial Crisis?”

“It’s something that happens every five to seven years,” Jamie Dimon told his daughter without a breath of sarcasm, writes Bloomberg financial reporter Bob Ivry in his book “The Seven Sins of Wall Street.” As the United States navigates its way through a post-recession financial environment, our tendency to fall back on old habits makes the term “recovery” questionable at […]

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When in Doubt: Commit Forgery?

This week, Linda Tirelli, a lawyer representing a client in a foreclosure case with Wells Fargo came across a very disturbing piece of evidence: a company manual instructing the bank’s staff in how to forge documents to proceed with foreclosures.  The manual instructs employees how to process [mortgage] notes without endorsements and obtaining endorsements and allonges.  In essence, if employees lacked the documents needed for foreclosure, they were instructed to make them up.  As Tirelli stated to the Washington Post: “This is a blueprint for fraud,” said Tirelli, who attached a copy of the manual as evidence in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y. “The idea that this bank is instructing people how to produce these documents is appalling.” The disclosure of the manual has been duly reported in the business sections of major media, but has not made a huge splash.  It’s shocking that the media and the public are this numb to the latest revelations of fraudulent behavior by megabanks.  Two years ago, several banks paid a settlement of $25 billion for their fraudulent conduct in robo-signing mortgages (although much of that money never actually benefited the people who lost their homes).  Apparently, the money paid by Wells Fargo for its portion of the settlement was not enough to deter ongoing wrongdoing.  The bank is so emboldened by the failure of the US government to truly crackdown on bank fraud that it was […]

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Why a Central Banking System Doesn’t Work for Everyone

Green America’s Take Charge Program urges consumers to support smaller, local financial institutions in lieu of megabanks. Here are a few reasons why local banks and credit unions benefit smaller communities across the country.  Since the early 20th Century, The United States has relied heavily on its centralized banking system. Represented by the Federal Reserve and top-tier financial institutions, (such as Citi and Bank of America), a centralized system is one in which a single entity regulates a state’s currency, money supply, and interest rates. The Federal Reserve has many responsibilities, including regulating and supervising private banks, protecting the credit rights of consumers, and issuing the nation’s currency. The role of large, wealthy private banks is important in understanding how the central banking system works. The Fed is not controlled by the government, but rather by a group of governing board members who are often employees of private megabanks. Private banks give the board information related to their particular economic situation, and Federal Reserve policy is based on their suggestions. In turn, Federal Reserve policy largely influences to whom, and by how much banks should lend their money. The centralization of banking benefits wealth concentration and increases risks Research suggests that “high-ability entrepreneurs” tend to gravitate towards a central banking system. Essentially, wealthy individuals and institutions enjoy the connectedness that a centralized system offers. Pooling together the resources of powerful entrepreneurs, however, increases the risk of losing all of that […]

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Bank of America Announces a New Plan for Taking Money from Those Who Can Least Afford It

Recently, Bank of America announced a new debit card where card holders will be charged $4.95 per month for overdraft protection.  The pitch to cardholders is that if they overdraw their accounts they will not rack up sizable overdraft fees.  On the surface, this might sound like a good deal to people who keep a low balance in their account and worry about accidentally triggering overdraft fees. But, the reality is quite different.  That’s because bank customers can’t overdraft their accounts unless they opt in for overdraft protection.  Gone are the days when banks could opt you in (without your knowledge) for overdraft protection  and then charge you hefty fees ($35 per overdraft)  for going pennies below your balance when you use your debit card. Allowing unaware customers to overdraft their account and then forcing them to pay $35 for this “privilege” mobilized consumers and their advocates to press for reform.  Thanks to banking reform legislation passed in 2010 (which Green America and its members supported), bank customers have to opt-in for overdraft protection.  If they don’t opt-in for the protection, and they attempt to overdraft their account, their card is simply rejected and no fee is charged.  Unfortunately, many consumers don’t understand this.  A 2011 survey of consumers who opted in for overdraft protection found that 66% of them mistakenly signed up for the service because they thought that if their debit card was rejected for trying to make […]

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This Valentine’s Day: Ditch a Megabank Zero and Take Up With a Hero

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate the ones we love.  But what if your love is one-sided and you are on the losing end?  If you are giving your hard-earned dollars to a megabank – such as Citi, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo – you might want to look at ending your relationship soon.  Ask yourself these questions: Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner abuses the planet?  If not, you should be aware that Citi, Bank of America, and Chase are all major funders of coal mining and coal-fired power plants. Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner rips you off?  If not, you should know that all the major banks and credit card issuers have been sued by federal and/or state authorities for abusive mortgage, credit cards, or other products.  And, big banks keep looking for ways to pile on fees. Do you want to be with a partner that has a total disregard for others and takes no responsibility for its actions?  Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America were all involved in fomenting the mortgage crisis that crashed the economy in 2008. They gambled with our money and then made us bail them out. It can be hard to leave a long-term relationship.  You get used to a bank and think that it will be a big hassle to change, or you’ll lose out on […]

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Finally – Debt Trap Payday Loans from Banks on the Way Out!

There’s good news for the longer term financial well-being of cash strapped individuals. Several major banks targeted by Green America and our allies – Wells Fargo, Regions Financial, US Bank and Fifth Third – are all phasing out short term loans that have had interest rates of up to 365%. These loans, known as “deposit advance loans” or more commonly as “payday loans” have trapped people in ongoing cycles of debt resulting in ever more borrowing. Last spring Green America wrote to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) calling attention to the problem of bank payday loans. This product is exploitative when offered by storefront payday lenders, and no less exploitative when offered by a bank. Green America was pleased that the Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry went on record saying: “We have significant concerns regarding the misuse of deposit advance products.” Similarly, when financial regulators issued new proposed guidance on bank payday loans, FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg stated that: “The proposed supervisory guidance released today reflects the serious risks that certain deposit advance products may pose to financial institutions and their customers.” Research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that more than 50% of bank payday loan borrowers took loans totaling at least $3,000 and of these borrowers, more than half paid off a loan only to take out another loan within just 12 days. […]

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