Two years after agreeing to a settlement with state attorneys general over improper foreclosure practices, five of the nation's largest banks have satisfied their consumer relief and refinancing obligations, according to a report by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight. More than 600,000 families received help, the settlement's monitor said.
"In total, the banks provided more than $50 billion of gross relief, which translates into more than $20 billion in credited relief under the settlement, said monitor Joseph A. Smith, a former North Carolina banking commissioner.
Under the original settlement, reached on Feb. 9, 2012, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Ally Financial agreed to provide consumer relief as well as overhaul and improve their servicing operations. The settlement arose out of charges of so-called "robo-signing" foreclosure documents as well as other forms of mortgage fraud and improper servicing.
Among the five banks, 37 percent of credited total relief was in the form of principal forgiveness on primary mortgages. Second lien principal forgiveness made up 15 percent. Refinancing assistance made up 17 percent of total credited relief, and other relief, including assistance for short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure, accounted for 31 percent of credited relief.
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In an interview, Smith said he was pleased that the banks responded in a timely manner and that there was no need for any penalties, which could have been assessed had the banks not acted so quickly. Some of the banks, he noted, went above and beyond what was required in mortgage modifications and refinances.
As for the improved services for all borrowers, regardless of distress, "that wasn't as good news," said Smith.
The new standards require better communication with borrowers, a single point of contact, adequate staffing levels and training, and appropriate standards for executing documents in foreclosure cases, according to the settlement.
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Smith spent the last two years traveling the country to talk with borrowers and credit counselors about their experiences with mortgage servicers.
"As a result, we have four additional metrics to deal with on the loan modification process which are intended to address what I heard over those two years," said Smith.
The banks, however, claim they are addressing servicing issues and have already improved dramatically, failing on only a very small percentage of the necessary requirements.
"As the housing market continues its recovery, Chase is as committed as ever to providing sustainable home ownership to families across the country," said Kevin Watters, CEO of mortgage banking at Chase. "We are making strong investments to simplify the business, enhance technology and strengthen controls to improve the overall customer experience."
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Over the next year, Smith said, he will continue to monitor the metrics that are already in place as well as the new metrics. There have been 10 "fails" of existing metrics, according to a report released last year. Another report will come out in May.
While their financial responsibilities under this settlement may be over, the banks still face more restitution to consumers under other settlements with state and federal regulators, as well as the Justice Department.