Loan insurers fined millions for kickbacks

Sanford A. Ibrahim, CEO of Radian Group, Inc., in his Center City office, a painting by local artist John Stango behind him.

Radian Group Inc., Philadelphia, and three other home mortgage insurers have agreed to pay a total of $15 million to settle accusations they paid "improper kickbacks" to lenders to gain new business, in the years before the financial meltdown of 2008, according to a statement today by the government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The settlement awaits approval by a federal judge in Florida.

The companies sell private mortgage insurance to borrowers who can't or won't scrape together at least a 20% down payment for a home. The insurance boosts homeownership costs, and helped mortgage lenders make loans to  people who otherwise couldn't have afforded to buy a home during the property price inflation years of the 1990s and early 2000s. The  insurers' complex financial arrangements covering the kickbacks were "worthless" to consumers and "inflated" their insurance costs, while boosting insurers' income, bureau director Richard Cordray said in the statement.

Radian defended the payments and the practice of "reinsuring" its customers' mortgage insurance policies through firms controlled by lenders that gave Radian business. In a statement, President Teresa Bryce Bazemore said the practices had helped keep the company solvent during the late 2000s economic downturn, and were legal under federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines at the time. Still, the company agreed to pay $3.75 million and stop reinsuring policies so it could "eliminate distractions at an acceptable cost" and keep writing new policies. In New York Stock Exchange trading this morning, Radian traded at above $10 a share, near a three-year high, with little movement following the settlement.

Also settling with the government: Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corp., United Guaranty Corp., and Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp.

The bureau didn't say what lenders were working with the insurers receiving kickbacks.. Last year, mortgage lender PHH Corp., Mount Laurel, said it was being investigated by the bureau for its mortgage insurance practices. PHH said it believed it had followed the law. 

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