Bank of America promised to go further, agreeing to fundamentally change the way the bank reports all the stale debts that are sold to financial firms. For all credit-card debts sold since May 2007, court records show, the bank will remove any marks on consumers' credit reports. That way, a lawyer said, "should a previously sold credit card account go through a bankruptcy discharge," the mark will already be gone.
Together, the decisions could help more than one million Americans.
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They are people like Bernadette Gatling, a hospital administrator, who went through bankruptcy to void debts she owed on Chase credit cards. While the process was grueling, she said, she thought it would offer her a second chance.
She was floored in March 2014 when three years after bankruptcy, she found that her credit report was still marred by the seemingly unvanquishable debts.
"I lost job after job because of this," she said, adding that potential employers would suddenly stop calling once they viewed her credit report.
There has been a fierce battle over the lawsuits, brought by Charles Juntikka, a bankruptcy lawyer in Manhattan, and George F. Carpinello, a partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
Judge Robert D. Drain, who is presiding over the cases, has repeatedly refused the banks' requests to throw out the lawsuits. In July, when he refused to dismiss the case against JPMorgan, he said, "The complaint sets forth a cause of action that Chase is using the inaccuracy of its credit reporting on a systematic basis to further its business of selling debts and its buyer's collection of such debt."
At a hearing in April, transcripts show, the judge criticized Citigroup for not changing the way it reports debts to the credit reporting agencies. "I continue to believe there's one reason, and one reason only, that Citibank refuses to change its policy," the judge said. The reason, the judge went on, is "because it makes money off of it."
In a statement, a spokesman for Citigroup said the bank "takes this issue very seriously," adding that the bank has made a proposal to the plaintiff's lawyers "consistent" with what the other banks have proposed.