Homeowners who fall behind on mortgage payments say lenders have grown slightly more flexible in scheduling late payments but are less accommodating than they ought to be, according to a study released on Wednesday.
J.D. Power and Associates, which examines customer satisfaction and is best known for its auto ratings, surveyed more than 11,000 homeowners. Many reported making at least one late mortgage payment in the last 12 months. Despite lenders being flexible with late payment situations, customers still feel as if their mortgage servicer is being less considerate of their specific circumstances relative to 2006, said Tim Ryan, a senior research director at Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power.
The results were released as thousands of Americans struggle to stay in their homes. Home prices have stagnated, and rates are resetting higher on hundreds of billions of dollars of loans made when credit was easier to get.
Foreclosures have hit a record, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, and 2.5 million first mortgage loans may go into default within two years, according to Moody's Economy.com.
Among 38 mortgage servicers studied by J.D. Power, BB&T ranked highest, with a score of 860 on a 1,000-point scale. M&T Bank Corp.'s M&T Mortgage was next with a 828 score, followed by Royal Bank of Scotland's Citizens Bank with 825. The average score was 798.
J.D. Power said BB&T, M&T and Citizens did well in limiting billing statement errors, offering a range of payment options, being flexible on electronic payments, designing usable automated phone systems, and handling customer matters efficiently.
Countrywide Financial Corp , which services $1.42 trillion of loans, was fourth with a 824 score, J.D. Power said.
Several other large lenders, including Bank of America Corp , Citigroup Inc's CitiMortgage, JPMorgan Chase & Co , Washington Mutual Inc and Wells Fargo & Co , also were above average in servicing loans.
Last month, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank is encouraging lenders to help arrange prudent loan modifications to avoid unnecessary foreclosures.
Some lenders have already taken steps to limit problems. In April, for example, Washington Mutual said it will refinance up to $2 billion of subprime loans for borrowers who are current on payments but may feel stretched once their rates reset.
Ranking at the bottom of J.D. Power's study was Ocwen Financial Corp , with a 627 score. Just above it was H&R Block Inc's Option One Mortgage Corp. unit, with a score of 669. H&R Block is selling Option One.
USAA Federal Savings Bank, a provider open only to the U.S. military and their families, had a 910 score, J.D. Power said.
The survey drew from responses of 11,481 homeowners, and was conducted in three parts in Nov. 2006, Feb. 2007 and May 2007.