(New York Times) -- When the bank account is running dry and the mortgage payment is coming due, the phrase “insufficient funds” is the last thing you want to hear.
Now imagine hearing those two words when trying to cash a long-awaited check from the same bank that foreclosed on you.
Many struggling homeowners got exactly that this week when they lined up to take their cut of a $3.6 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks — lenders accused of wrongful evictions and other abuses.
Ronnie Edward, whose home was sold in a foreclosure auction, waited three years for his $3,000 check. When it arrived on Tuesday, he raced to his local bank in Tennessee, only to learn that the funds “were not available.”
Mr. Edward, 38, was taken aback. “Is this for real?” he asked.
It is unclear how many of the 1.4 million homeowners who were mailed the first round of payments covered under the foreclosure settlement have had problems with their checks. But housing advocates from California to New York and even regulators say that in recent days frustrated homeowners have bombarded them with complaints and questions.
The mishap is just the latest setback to troubled homeowners. It took more than two years to resolve a federal investigation into the foreclosure abuses. Even after the settlement in January, the checks were delayed for weeks.
“It’s the perfect ending for such a debacle,” said Michael Redman, a paralegal who runs 4closurefraud.org, a Web site for victims of foreclosure abuse. He said he had received 15 e-mails on Tuesday from homeowners whose checks bounced.
The first round of the settlement checks were mailed last week. In recent days, problems arose at Rust Consulting, a firm chosen to distribute the checks, people briefed on the matter said. After collecting the $3.6 billion from the banks, these people said, Rust failed to move the money into a central account at Huntington National Bank in Ohio, the bank that issued the checks to homeowners.
Many banks, after spotting a phone number for Huntington on the back of the checks and confirming the legitimacy of the money, agreed to process the payments. But some credit unions, check cashers and community banks apparently looked only at the account number on the unfamiliar-looking checks and ultimately found a zero balance, the people briefed on the matter said.