Is Wells Fargo Shirking Its Obligations on Mortgage Relief?


When it comes to the mortgage business, Wells Fargo (NYS: WFC) is certainly no slouch. As other big banks backed away from this important area after the financial crisis, Wells has become a veritable mortgage-writing dynamo, currently handing out about one-third of all home mortgage loans.

Which is why I was surprised to see that the bank doesn't seem to be as ambitious as other banks -- namely JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) and Bank of America (NYS: BAC) -- when it comes to holding up its end of the National Mortgage Settlement bargain struck with regulators in February.

Bank of America, JPMorgan are miles ahead
The aforementioned signatories to the fraudclosure settlement have announced their progress relative to that agreement, trumpeting the headway they have achieved less than a year after the pact was signed.

Bank of America, for instance, announced that it may put its portion of the $25 billion settlement to bed by next February, two years earlier than its allowable timeline. The bank claims it will have aided 164,000 eligible homeowners by that date, to the tune of $15.8 billion - its full share, according to the terms of the settlement.

JPMorgan is proud of its forward motion, as well. The bank says it has committed $7 billion in aid to 75,000 troubled borrowers, even though its portion of the accord is a mere $4.2 billion. Separate agreements with California and Florida, now fulfilled, most likely account for much of the extra aid dollars.

Wells Fargo: Slightly behind the eight ball
Belatedly, Wells released its own update on the mortgage fraud settlement, noting that it has assisted approximately 45,000 homeowners and committed about half of its $4.3 billion obligation, so far. Not awful, but not as proactive as JPMorgan or Bank of America, either.

Another notable development along these lines has to do with a warning from the New York Attorney General's office to Wells regarding its announced hiatus from processing loan modification paperwork due to super-storm Sandy. The planned sabbatical was to last for at least 90 days, despite the foreclosure fraud settlement terms of a 30-day decision window from the time the application was received by the bank. Naturally, the bank denied that it was trying to get away with anything and is planning to fulfill its obligations under the law.

One Fool's take
Wells' lack of enthusiasm is surprising, particularly since it has shown much support and compassion for home ownership among those affected by the housing meltdown. The company, through its $7 million NeighborhoodLIFT program, is currently offering grant money to eligible borrowers in Sacramento to help foster home ownership, while its $6 million Leading the Way Home program has helped construct new homes in Chicago neighborhoods devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

While Wells isn't quite as gung-ho as B of A and JPMorgan, it is still on its way toward meeting its obligations in regards to the foreclosure settlement. The more quickly this issue is resolved, however, the faster the big banks can get on with the business of regaining their former strength. Good press can help, and it's a shame that Wells let its fellows get the lion's share of the glory in this regard, especially considering its good works elsewhere.

Wells Fargo's dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains? To help figure out whether Wells Fargo is a buy today, I invite you to download our premium research report from one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts. Click here now for instant access to this in-depth take on Wells Fargo.

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Fool contributor Amanda Alix has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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