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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 11: Pedestrians walk by a Wells Fargo home mortgage office on October 11, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Wells Fargo reported a 13 percent increase in third-quarter profits with a net income of $5.6 billion, or 99 cents a share compared to $4.9 billion, or 88 cents a share one year ago. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
But when you adjust for size, Georgia’s Ocwen got the most complaints — almost 1 for every 1,000 loans serviced — followed by Nationstar Mortgage and BofA. Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest servicer during the period studied, had the second-most complaints overall, but ranked ninth when adjusted by market share.
The bureau has received 138,086 complaints about mortgages — mostly about modifications, foreclosures and servicing issues — since it started accepting them in December 2011. That represented 38 percent of all published complaints in the database. The bureau began taking complaints about 11 financial products at different times, ranging from credit cards in July 2011 to prepaid cards in July 2014.
Debt collectors got the second-most complaints, 57,283, even though the bureau did not start gathering gripes about them until July 2013. In early 2015, debt collection overtook mortgages as the most-complained about product on a monthly basis.
The complaint database helps the bureau spot trends and decide where to focus its rulemaking and enforcement actions, said Mike Litt, a consumer program advocate with U.S. PIRG. But it provides no context or analysis, leaving it up to organizations like U.S. PIRG, which has published five previous reports about other products in the database.
The database is sortable by company, state, product, type of complaint and other criteria, but it’s not easy for the average consumer to use. “ One of our recommendations is to create a more user-friendly interface for pulling up reports,” Litt said.
Last month, the bureau began to include customer narratives. or personal stories, with some complaints. Many relate the hard-luck stories that left them unable to pay their mortgages. The borrowers’ names and identifying information are redacted. The companies’ names are shown, usually with a brief, generic response. Like the rest of the database, it’s hard to draw conclusions from the narratives.
The bureau last month asked people for input on ways to
make the data more useful to the public.
The vast majority of complaints about mortgages fall into two categories, the report said. About 55 percent were from people who had trouble paying their loans and involved modifications, collections and foreclosure. About 30 percent involved loan servicing, payments and escrow accounts.
The database also includes information about how complaints were resolved, but the descriptions are somewhat opaque. For example, 86 percent of mortgage complaints were “closed with explanation,” which means the company responded to the complaint but did not provide monetary or nonmonetary relief. This was originally called “closed without relief,” but the banks did not like that tag so the bureau changed it to “closed with explanation,” Litt said.
The report said that 7 percent of mortgage complaints were closed with nonmonetary relief, 4 percent were closed with monetary relief, 2 percent were closed without relief or explanation and 1 percent were in progress.
Mortgage complaints peaked in 2013 and fell by 13 percent in 2014, with BofA showing the biggest drop-off (53 percent). The report’s authors could not say how much of the overall decline was a result of the National Mortgage Settlement, which cracked down on abuses, and how much reflected a recovery in the housing market, which left fewer borrowers seeking relief.
In an e-mail, BofA said, “We greatly value our customers and are intensely focused on resolving complaints we receive, and that is reflected in the dramatic reduction in complaints from 2013 to 2014.” It said it has helped more than 2 million customers avoid foreclosure, and reduced the number of seriously delinquent mortgage loans to less than 10 percent of peak levels.
Wells Fargo said it “takes customer feedback very seriously,” and that the bank works “with each customer to attempt to find solutions that meet the customer’s needs and individual circumstances.”
Ocwen, a mortgage servicer that grew by acquisition, did not return a request for comment.
Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://blog.sfgate.com/pender Twitter: @kathpender
Moaning about mortgages
These 10 companies accounted for 77 percent of all mortgage complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from the fourth quarter of 2011 through the third quarter of 2014. Ranking is adjusted for market share in the mortgage-servicing business.