How much the total package of cash and non-cash borrower aid is worth is impossible for outside observers to say.
"Companies that have reached for these settlements have not taken an explicit charge for it," said Moshe Orenbuch, a banking stock analyst for Credit Suisse who has debated how to value noncash settlements with clients.
In discussing the deals with analysts, the banks "always say, `just remember, there's the piece that's cash and the piece that's not cash.' In general terms, they're suggesting that the relief is stuff they're doing anyway."
Beyond the bonus credits, the lengthy durations of the deals mean banks can accrue some of the credits they need simply by running business as usual.
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JPMorgan, for example, must provide roughly $2 billion of principal reductions to homeowners before the end of 2017. That is one-fifth the $10 billion that the bank forgave between 2009 and 2012, according to its annual social responsibility reports.
Even before its settlement with the Justice Department, the bank had committed itself to continuing the same principal reduction programs.
Both the department and the banks declined comment.
Consumer advocates said settlement amounts can obscure the actual costs at stake. But since the disputed business behaviors affected mortgage investors, not mortgage borrowers directly, they welcome any consumer aid.
"This is public policy making through settlements that aren't even related to the nature of the lawsuit," says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. "But there's no other tool available for people who are concerned about poor communities right now."
In the deal with JPMorgan in November, the department had a clear message for homeowners: Billions of dollars' worth of help was coming. Attorney General Eric Holder at the time described the appointment of an independent monitor who would distribute $4 billion set aside for homeowner relief.
The actual relief is more complicated than cash handouts, however.
Both Citigroup and JPMorgan earn credits under the settlement from a "menu" of different consumer-friendly activities, according to settlement documents. The options are effectively an update of the consumer relief previously provided through the national mortgage servicing settlement, a 2012 deal between state attorneys general and the major banks.
JPMorgan probably will earn its $4 billion in credits under the settlement through a total of $4.65 billion of activities that qualified as relief, according to a report by Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit run by executives from low-income housing groups and major banks.
More than half will come from principal reductions, with the rest earned through actions such as writing new loans in distressed areas, donating foreclosed properties to community groups and temporarily suspending payments on some loans.