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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“Dad, What’s a Financial Crisis?”

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“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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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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Credit Cards 101: Responsible Credit Cards for Young Green Americans

According to a recent poll, 34% of Americans aged 18 to 50 do not have a credit card. For most young people, the word “finance” conjures up little more than images of suits on Wall St and a dangerously low checking account balance. Fears of crippling debt (often the result of massive student loans), predatory mega-banks, and identity theft deter us from applying for a credit card. Paying for all of your expenses with cash is a responsible option, and it is entirely possible to live a life without credit. There are, however, many advantages to educating yourself about credit cards and using them wisely. They’re small, convenient, and easy to monitor, and they allow us to accomplish a range of activities that we couldn’t with just cash or a debit card. Here are a few examples: –          Housing – Before you sign a lease on a house or apartment, your landlord will want to check your credit as a gauge of how good you are at paying your bills. If you have bad credit or no credit, a landlord will be very wary of renting their property to you. Utilities companies also use credit as a gauge of financial responsibility. Even if you can convince a landlord to rent you their property, convincing the electric utility to turn on your power without good credit could be a real challenge. –          Employment – Employers may check candidates’ credit to judge […]

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A New Years Resolution Green Americans can Get Behind

Though the holiday season is full of friends, family, and good food, the prospect of a New Year’s resolution looms like an important deadline. Whether it’s taking steps to improve your personal health or checking an item off of your bucket list, our brains tend to resist serious changes when faced with periods of comfort, satisfaction, and routine. There’s plenty of science behind this too – researchers have substantial evidence that we are at odds with our desire to change our behavior. According to a survey of 3,000 people conducted by UK psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of proposed New Year’s resolutions resulted in failure. An experiment conducted by Baba Shiv of Stanford University further illustrates the point. Students were split into two groups and told to remember either a two-digit number, or a seven-digit number. With their assigned number in mind, the students were then told to walk down the hallway where they were presented with a choice of snacks: either chocolate cake or fruit salad. Shiv found that the students trying to remember a seven-digit number were almost twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake over the fruit salad. So while you’re wrapping up end-of-the year projects at work or finishing final exams at school, there is evidence to support that a mind with a high cognitive load often makes poor choices. Many New Year’s resolutions involve significant willpower and commitment – like starting a diet or an […]

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Take Charge of your Card – Switch to a Credit Card that Supports People & the Planet

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Today, Green America is proud to announce our newest campaign:  The “Take Charge of your Card” campaign urges consumers to move their money away from mega-banks with questionable environmental practices, restrictive fees and interest rates, and outlandish executive compensation and into smaller community development banks and credit unions. One of the best ways to remove support from banks that fail […]

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