Stop Screwing Up My Life, Wells Fargo

Throughout my nine-month adventure with Wells Fargo, I’ve tried through mature, professional interactions to convince them I’m a good candidate for a loan modification and they have played juvenile games to prolong the process and try to justify denying me a modification. Trying to deal with a mortgage servicer as if it’s run by reasonable, competent professionals is a bit like trying to explain difficult concepts like ethics and professionalism to a group of not-too-bright kindergartners. Highly frustrating and inherently futile. Seriously makes a person want to whack one of these bank execs over the head with a two-by-four until they finally admit that yes, they are all conspiring to lie, cheat and steal whatever they can get and they don’t care whether they have to look like imbeciles or two-bit thugs to do it.

But the frustration isn’t the worst part of it for me. Instead, it’s the little things. The not knowing. There are decisions you would make about your property, your life, your work that now depend on the whims of your mortgage servicer. Like the woman in this article wondering whether she should buy firewood for the winter. In my case, I really needed to have the roof of my home re-coated last spring. It sure doesn’t make any sense to spend the money for that kind of maintenance if the bank is just going to take the house, but there’s also a risk the roof will leak in the winter rains and do serious damage.

I like to garden and have done quite a bit of landscaping in the formerly barren backyard of my home. I had a project planned for this fall, but I’m not going to purchase, build and install the fun trellis I had planned or put in more plants for the bank to steal. I made do with planting some things in pots that can move with me if/when I go. Still, I can’t take all the plants with me and I hate to think of everything I’ve worked hard to nurture ending up dead when this house sits empty for months or years after Wells Fargo and Freddie Mac foreclose. What a waste.

Like many homeowners, I have a number of pets. One of them is a wise and wonderful 13-year-old cat who was diagnosed with diabetes early this year. While I was treating him, I had to start facing the fact that he is getting older and won’t be with me forever. Bast is an indoor/outdoor cat who learned his survival skills from one of my other cats who lived to a venerable old age because he was smart about humans and other predators. I’d love to get new kitten while Bast is still able to pass that knowledge on, preserving the lineage so to speak. And I had a chance this summer to adopt a feral kitten, a cute yellow tom from a litter that showed up where I work. But, because of my uncertainty about where I’ll be living, I felt it would be terribly irresponsible to take in another pet. That made me so sad, but what would Wells Fargo care about a few tears?

My biggest worry is my dogs. If I lose my home to foreclosure-hungry Wells Fargo, where do I live? If I go to an apartment, I can’t take two German Shepherds with me. Rental houses are getting more and more expensive, up in the range of my current monthly mortgage payment. And I’ve read some absolute horror stories about the way renters are treated when they live in homes that end up in foreclosure. How could I trust that a landlord would be honest and reveal if he was facing that and I might get kicked out again at any time? For an animal-lover, it is heartbreaking to face separation from beloved pets, to have to ask among your family and friends who would be able to take in the dogs if that becomes my only option.

My biggest concern is for my old shepherd, Alex, who at 13 is partially blind and doesn’t hear very well. He does okay negotiating his way around this familiar house and yard, though once in a while I see him get disoriented and obviously not know where he is for a short time. Moving would be a huge stress on him and I’ve lost sleep over that more than once over the past months. There’s a good news/bad news scenario with that now. He had a tumor removed in the spring, but the vet warned me that it was a type of cancer that commonly recurs. Sure enough, in the summer a small growth showed up on his throat. It had been stable until this week, but now it’s growing fast. So, chances are Alex’s cancer will outpace Wells Fargo’s foreclosure process and my sweet and loving dog will be spared the stress of a move.

I have come to despise Wells Fargo, Freddie Mac and all the government entities that seem not to care about what is right, what makes sense or even what is legal. And I know my tribulations are small compared to many others’ – I am healthy, employed and I don’t have children or other family depending on me to provide shelter and food. But still, it’s the little things that chip away at you day after day.

You Lost Your Home. Oh, darn. (Yawn)

When the Making Home Affordable initiative was launched in early 2009, it was supposed to help up to 9 million homeowners keep their homes. The Home Affordable Modification Program itself was supposed to help 3 million-4 million homeowners by extending the loan term, decreasing the interest rate and reducing principal.

MHA has been a dismal failure. The Congressional Oversight Panel reported this week that HAMP may end up preventing only about 700,000 to 800,000 of the up to 13 million foreclosures expected by 2012. Is the Obama administration mortified beyond belief at this monumental failure? Are Treasury officials falling all over themselves apologizing for failing to monitor banks’ compliance with program guidelines?

Nope. Not as far as I can tell. I did find an article in which a Treasury official whined that the COP criticism was unfair. Right. But offering people false hope by touting a “home retention” program that was, by design, never actually intended to help them is just business as usual, I suppose? Wrong!

I can’t find a word from President Obama about the report. But, after all, he did his best, right. I mean, a year ago he set out to “shame” the banks into offering more mortgage help to struggling homeowners. Mind you, these were people who took billions in TARP bailout funds from the American taxpayers and then paid themselves huge bonuses. There is no shaming the shameless. What a farce!

At no point in this financial-services-industry-caused economic downturn have any of the companies or individual executives been held accountable for their poor judgment or for their ethically questionable or downright illegal policies and activities. So why in the world would any intelligent person expect these same companies and people to voluntarily help fix the mess they created?

Even as the mortgage lenders’ massive foreclosure fraud has come to light, neither the Obama administration nor Congress nor Treasury seems to have considered that the banks are only going to deal honestly and fairly with customers on loan modifications if they are forced to do so.

That tells me that nobody involved in the process really intended for homeowners to get help. MHA was just a big scam from the start. The administration seems to be satisfied with having created the illusion that it was helping the common folk while actually creating ways for banks to make record profits off those same people. How this helps stabilize the economy is beyond me.

The long-term strategy seems to be to throw the middle and lower classes under the bus and help the rich get even richer. And for all those who lost their homes (their jobs, their pensions) during this time of wealth re-allocation. Too bad, so sad.

(Here’s a great editorial cartoon on the subject.)

How Long Has Wells Fargo Been Lying to Us?

So there I was sitting in a waiting area inside a Wells Fargo Bank branch recently, biding my time before closing out a small, inactive checking account. (I had been meaning to do it for ages, but reading about the Dec. 7 Global Bank Run finally spurred me to action.)

From a pile on a low table next to my chair, I picked up a copy of one of their marketing pieces, the “Smarter Credit Press.” And right there on the front page, highligheted in a lurid purple box, was a photo of CEO John Stumpf and yet another institutional lie:

“Having long supported a legal and regulatory environment that promotes consumer protections, financial reporting transparency and clarity, as well as prudent risk management, we support the general principles inherent in the financial reform bill, as the are consistent with how Wells Fargo operates.”

Well, now, John, I have to tell you that, as a customer of your home mortgage division I feel that I have become quite well aware over the past year of how Wells Fargo operates. And I can’t say that I have experienced anything in that time that suggests protecting consumers is anywhere near the top of your institutional priority list.

Misleading consumers. Stringing consumers along. Lying to consumers. Creating false hope in consumers. Stealing consumers’ homes. Scamming consumers with bait-and-switch tactics. Thumbing your nose at the rule of law. Yep, all of those. Along with happily taking the taxpayers’ money to save your institutional backsides and then arrogantly refusing to return the favor. Over and over and over.

Wells Fargo was so arrogant that when the robo-signing scandal broke, yours was not one of the companies that suspended foreclosures to investigate the allegations of grossly fraudulent activity. Instead, Wells Fargo seems to have tried to convince the public it is somehow above all that. Right. Does anyone with two functioning brain cells not believe that Wells Fargo is committing exactly the same types and amounts of fraud as B 0f A and the rest of the corporate banks? Seems maybe the only people who believe these things are the agencies that are supposed to be working for us, the citizens. You know, Congress, the Treasury Dept., the President.

Enterprising journalists and bloggers figured out the truth: Wells Fargo was (shock!) lying. As it turned out, Wells Fargo later admitted it needed to refile documents in 55,000 foreclosures, but stubbornly insisted there were only small technical problems and all the foreclosures were valid.

Yes, Wells Fargo was using robo-signers, too. But, honestly, completely subverting the rule of law for your own enrichment is only a minor technicality.

Sorry, not buying it. Given the number of institutional lies I have encountered while researching Wells Fargo mortgage issues and the individual lies that were commonplace in my attempt to secure a mortgage modification, I’d be surprised if anyone in the Wells Fargo organization even knows what “consumer protection” means anymore.

Govt. Home Retention Programs = Scam!

I had a pleasant but not very productive chat with a representative from one of the Department of Housing and Urban Development‘s certified counseling agencies this week. I was inquiring about the Save Our Home AZ program, which is Arizona’s method to distribute its $125 million federal allocation from the Hardest Hit Fund aimed at the 10 states hardest hit by foreclosures. The stated intention is to” provide assistance of up to $50,000 to qualified homeowners to create an affordable and sustainable mortgage payment through a permanent principal reduction modification.”

Or not to distribute the money, is actually what’s happening. To date only a handful of people have gotten help through this program.

Why is that? It’s certainly not because there aren’t tens of thousands of Arizona homeowners with legitimate need. It’s not even because the people who would like to apply for this assistance didn’t fill in the paperwork correctly! It’s because the vast majority of homeowners aren’t even eligible to apply.

First, you’re ineligible if your current mortgage is the result of a refinance. Even for someone like me who refinanced into a standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to get out of one of those awful 80/20 adjustable-rate mortgages. Apparently making a good financial decision like that is to be punished.

Even worse, apparently, was a refinance from which the borrower took some of the equity in cash. I did that during my refinance not to finance a luxurious vacation or to spend frivolously, but instead to pay off credit card bills from the cross-country move that led to my buying the house. How irresponsible of me!

Here’s the really big one, the criterion that excludes the majority of homeowners from even applying. From the Arizona Dept. of Housing website:

“If you have a Government issued or insured mortgage such as a VA (Veteran’s Administration), FHA (Federal Housing Administration), Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) or Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) loan, these investors are not currently allowing principal reduction on these mortgages. Therefore, you are not currently able to benefit from this program.”

That means the vast majority of borrowers do not meet the criteria. According to web sources, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hold or guarantee about half of the nation’s outstanding home mortgages. And the FHA, VA and federal farm programs made up 54% of all new mortgages in 2009.

So who, exactly is this Arizona program supposed to be helping? Oh, yeah, the same people the mortgage modification programs are supposed to be helping. Except they aren’t, for the most part.

Of the $75 billion the federal government initially committed for helpful initiatives like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), total disbursements to mortgage programs were only about $710 million through the end of October 2010. Of the three to four million homeowners the highly touted but largely impotent HAMP program and other initiatives were supposed to help, only about half a million homeowners have received permanent modifications to their mortgages.

Why do these government agencies, federal and state, keep creating highly publicized “home retention” programs for which very few borrowers can actually qualify? Arizona’s Hardest Hit Fund program was supposed to be helping 4,000 homeowners, but the HUD counselor I spoke to said only a few have qualified so far. Don’t say you’re going to help and then do everything you can to not help. That’s just mean. And pointless.

There are lots of good, honest, hard-working people who need real help now. Instead they get an ongoing shell game that inevitably ends up in foreclosure. It’s time for the government that is supposed to be serving the public to stop lining the pockets of corporate banks.

No More Big Bank Disservice

Sadly for me, I’m just old enough to remember when service, well, existed. Companies built entire business models on serving customers and how well they profited depended  how well they took care of these people who chose to come through the door.

Yes, I fondly remember full-service gas stations, where the attendant filled your tank, washed your windshield, checked your oil, put air in your tires and even fetched your change, all with a smile and “thank you, have a nice day.”

I also remember when banks were run for the benefit of the customers and when a town with a bank had a valuable resource, a symbol of prosperity and future growth. The tellers knew your name and if you messed up and overdrew your account, they’d call and remind you that you needed to make a deposit.

Then, the bank president was a pillar of the community, someone you saw in church on Sunday, stood in line behind at the grocery store and sat next to at the high school football game. His kids went to school with yours. His wife was in the PTA and on the local festival committee and hosted the garden club.

No, this wasn’t the ’50’s. It was the ’70s and early ’80s in rural Colorado where I grew up.  Even then, some people patronized the same bank for their entire lives, from the time they deposited their first paychecks as teenagers ’til they deposited their pension checks.

Today’s big corporate banks don’t resemble those community-building organizations in the slightest. Oh, the tellers behind the counter might be friendly enough, and one or two might even make the effort to learn your name if you have a big balance. But they sure as heck won’t call to tell you you’re overdrawn and you need to make a deposit before a big fee is charged and you bounce checks (and pay even more fees.)

And in this era of instant access to communication, these banks don’t even make an effort to notify you of your mistake in a timely manner. Oh, they will mail you a notice, but it’ll probably take a week to get there. Maximizes the chance that you’ll inadvertently bounce a few more checks and rack up some more exorbitant fees.

Banks no longer remember that theirs is a service industry. Now their institutional policies and procedures are all aimed at one thing – generating as much profit as possible from each account (you’re not a customer anymore, you’re a number) no matter how unethical or even downright illegal the means.

This story about a large Ohio bank’s policy of posting customer transactions according to the dollar amount, not when they actually occurred during the day, is a depressing reminder that these companies cannot and should not be trusted. Gee, do you think Fifth Third Bank‘s policy called for smallest amounts to be posted first? So the people who could least afford to get dinged with overdraft fees and such wouldn’t be preyed upon unnecessarily.

And, do you think this bank – which is having to pay back some of its customers – is the only one whose executives spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking up schemes like this to defraud customers and fund those big salaries and bonuses? Not likely! Oh look, my pals at Wells Fargo got caught doing the same thing.

Oh, and the $10 million settlement Fifth Third is a mere pittance to a corporation whose third-quarter net income was $238 million.

What say we all tell these greedy, self-serving corporate banks to take a hike and find a friendly credit union or local bank where we’ll be treated like customers? I did and it feels great!

Move your money!

‘Tis the Season to Move Your Money

It’s not new, this problem of rich bankers wanting to gobble up all the wealth of a community for themselves. In fact, to see a great illustration of this very thing, you have only to look as far as the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Remember our old building and loan pal George Bailey standing up to the evil banker, Mr. Potter? The underdog Bailey Building and Loan worked with people, helping them to become homeowners. George and his family even celebrated with the families, bringing gifts of food and wine to welcome them home.

Meanwhile, greedy Mr. Potter didn’t care one bit about his community or the people in it. He just wanted more money. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. He played power games with people just to make himself feel big and strong and important.

It seems to me there’s some of that going on now. Why else would the big banks foreclose on millions of houses, flooding an already clogged market with homes they won’t give anyone loans to buy? How does that make long-term fiscal sense? Does it help revive the economy (which the financial services industry tanked with greed and mismanagement)?

So, in this holiday season while you’re making your financial choices, deciding what to spend on gifts and how much to charge on credit cards, consider whether you want to continue to feed Mr. Potter’s greed. If not, it’s a great time to Move Your Money.

If you love George Bailey, get your money away from Potter!

Arrogant Wells Fargo Says, “Get a Job”

So, Wells Fargo has it all figured out. I don’t need a mortgage loan modification to get me back on track. I need a part-time job. At least that’s what the nice man in the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage president’s office told me recently. Oh really?! Why didn’t I think of that?

If I just take some time off from running and trying to grow my small business and go work for somebody else, my troubles will all be over. He suggested 10-15 hours per week would be a good goal to aim for. Sure. No problem. I’m sure my fellow small-business owners will agree that shouldn’t prove difficult.

Of course, since I am the only “employee” in my company, I do all the direct work with clients, most often driving to where they are for hour-long appointments. And I’m also the person who keeps the books, answers the phone and emails and does the scheduling. I design, write, edit, provide photos for and maintain a website promoting my company. I write a blog. I maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter. That keeps me pretty busy 8-10 hours a day. I do try to take off one day a week, when I don’t schedule clients. But I inevitably end up on the computer doing something for several hours.

And,  since March, there have been the hours spent sending paperwork over and over to WFHM and answering those autodialed customer service calls that have no information to impart but certainly do take up time. One of the mailings, requested by the president’s office, totaled 52 pages, many of them two-sided, and took about 10 hours to organize, copy and assemble. (Because if I left out a form or forgot to dot an “I,” no doubt I would be guilty of “failing to send in the requested documentation.”)

Even when a loan customer has been assigned a single contact person at WF, the time-consuming nonsense goes on. One of the times the person who was supposed to be with my review until the end passed me off to someone else, it took 12 days and 14 phone calls before I was actually given the phone number of my new “point person.”But I’m sure an employer wouldn’t mind if I did that kind of thing on the job.

But sure, I can squeeze in 10-15 more hours of work, just so John Stumpf and Co. can extract my share of the kazillions of dollars they seem to think they are entitled to this year.

Of course, there’s the matter of finding a job. I’m a former print journalist, so not much opportunity there. My last “real world” employer was a state university, but I’ll wager every single public institution of higher learning is operating under a hiring freeze now and for the foreseeable future.

What a load of BS. I’m not faulting the WF employee who made this suggestion – he really was trying very hard to be helpful. My problem is the sheer arrogance of Wells Fargo even suggesting its employees tell beleaguered borrowers to “just get a part-time job.”

Seems to me it was greed and mismanagement in the financial services industry that has led to the economic woes, including RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT. That doesn’t mean a bunch of deadbeats sitting around collecting government checks (like the big banks did so recently). That means people looking for jobs so they can pay their upside-down mortgages and feed their children and just generally survive.

So, in that market, the great and powerful Wells Fargo tells me to get a job? Get a clue, Wells Fargo!

So Long, Amy the Autodialer

I’m getting calls from “Amy” at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage pretty much every day now. Not on Thanksgiving, I was happy to note. Is this Amy a helpful person trying to help modify my mortgage loan? No, indeed. “Amy” is the autodialer, the computer that generates phone calls for the “Loan Servicing” department, also known as “Collections.”

Now that the shell game also known as a “mortgage loan modification review” is in recess, the collection efforts are in full swing. When I return “Amy’s” calls, I get helpful customer service representatives who are quick to tell me the balance I owe on my mortgage.

I remarked to “Rose” today that I am unlikely to forget from one day to the next that I am behind on my mortgage payments, so I’d appreciate only getting calls if WFHM has useful information for me or needs information from me. I asked about the procedure for stopping the automatic calls and, at first, she said she didn’t think there was a way to do that. (!!)

When I invoked the federal law designed to stop people from being harassed by debt collectors, she put me on hold and went to check on that. (Uh huh …) When she came back she confirmed that I was right and WF does have a procedure for people who would like to stop receiving collection calls. She is putting a 15-day “stop” on my account and sending me a cease-and-desist form to fill out.

Time to get more familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. For the rest of you facing this same issue, here’s a link to all kinds of useful info. about dealing with debt collectors.

My question, as a person now well versed in the nefarious ways of Wells Fargo, is this: Will they now use this as an excuse for not informing me of the next steps in the collections/foreclosure process? Anyone have any experience with this issue regarding WF or the other too-big-to-obey-the-law banks?