Bank of America fields 150,000 payment deferral requests, but some customers call mortgage relief 'misleading'

A sign hangs above the entrance to a Bank of America branch in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson

Days after her husband was laid off as a restaurant manager, Rosanne Stoddard waited on hold for over two hours to talk to a Bank of America representative about the possibility of delaying payment on her $2,200 monthly mortgage. 

While Stoddard says she's lucky to be working from her home in Connecticut with full pay during the coronavirus outbreak, her husband's job vanished once the restaurant where he worked was forced to close. "He's 53 years old and has no idea if, or when, he'll be able to find another job quickly in this field given the circumstances with COVID-19," Stoddard tells CNBC Make It.

Down to a single income, Stoddard was heartened to see news that her mortgage lender, Bank of America, was offering to defer mortgage payments for those affected by coronavirus, with payments added to the end of the loan term. Especially since money is tight this month. "We are still waiting on unemployment benefits to be approved," Stoddard says. 

"If you have a cash flow interruption because of your employment, and you need to defer your payment for 30, 60, 90 days, call us up," Bank of America's CEO Brian Moynihan told CNBC on Friday morning. So far, Moynihan says the bank has had 150,000 deferral requests come in from customers.

When Stoddard finally connected with a customer service rep, she was told Bank of America was only willing to suspend her mortgage payments for three months. After three months, Stoddard says she was told she would need to pay all suspended payments at once and that reworking her loan wasn't an option.

In effect, that means she'd owe the three months of deferred mortgage payments plus that month's mortgage payment, about $8,800 as early as June — far more than she was expecting or able to pay.

"I was hoping to defer for at least three months, but we certainly couldn't pay back the suspended payments after the end of three months. We thought the payments would be reworked to the end of the loan, but the rep I talked to was pretty blunt to say that was not an option," Stoffard says. "It was pretty disheartening to say the least."

Stoddard isn't the only Bank of America customer facing this issue. Several others reached out to CNBC Make It directly with similar experiences, reporting the bank's customer service reps told them that they would have to pay a lump sum of the deferred mortgage payments when the deferment period was up. Many other customers have flooded Bank of America's social media pages with complaints. 



For its part, Bank of America tells CNBC Make It that each client situation is unique, and it's handling requests on a case-by-case basis.

Bank of America has two different types of mortgage tracks and the relief scenarios vary for each. For clients with loans owned by the bank, Bank of America is offering a month-to-month payment deferral, and those postponed payments can be added to the end of the loan. 

If customers with Bank of America-owned loans continue to face hardship after one month, they can call again and extend for another month, and so on. Bank of America says it will work with these customers on their particular situation.

But like most other lenders, Bank of America says it also services loans that are owned by outside investors, including Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance-backed loans.

For those loans, Bank of America says it will follow the investor guidelines, which currently allow three months of forbearance. At the end of three months, customers need to contact Bank of America again to discuss a loan modification. That may include adding the deferred payments to the end of the loan, but the bank could also determine at that point the customer needs to pay the full deferral amount.

To understand which program your loan might fall under, Bank of America is urging people to contact customer service directly. Moynihan did note on his CNBC appearance on Friday that "on the mortgage side, we have to wait for some regulations to come from the federal government, but the idea is to help [customers] with the cash flow issues...and let them get back on track on the other side."

Additionally, to help streamline the deferred payment request, Bank of America tells CNBC Make It that it is rolling out an online request form so customers can work through this process digitally. Credit card customers can already request to defer payments using an online form. 

While Bank of America did highlight its relief efforts for bank-owned loans in its press releases and statements to the media, many customers did not see any mention of the different deferral process for loans serviced by the bank.

"The [customer service] rep definitely hadn't explained either of those scenarios, and I spoke to two different ones," Stoddard says. "It's still misleading to say the least."

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