Beth Jacobson, Ex-Wells Fargo Employee, Alleges Bank Employed Predatory Lending Practices

Ex-Wells Fargo Worker: Bank Steered Black Homebuyers Into Subprime Mortgages

Six years after the onset of the housing bust, big banks are still facing allegations that race influenced their lending practices.

Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer, alleges that the company steered black borrowers into expensive, untenable subprime loans at the height of the housing bubble, The Washington Post reports.

It's an accusation Wells Fargo has categorically denied. But Jacobson is far from the only person to make such claims about a major bank. A Federal Reserve study in 2009 found that 55 percent of black home buyers were guided toward subprime mortgages by their lenders, compared with just 17 percent of white homebuyers, according to CBS News. At this point, evidence of a pattern is hard to ignore.

Wells Fargo has been hit with at least four major court actions alleging predatory practices on the part of its loan officers -- a lawsuit from the city of Baltimore, in which Jacobson's testimony plays a key role; a separate lawsuit from the city of Memphis; a probe from the Department of Justice; and civil charges from the Federal Reserve, accusing Wells Fargo of pushing thousands of minority borrowers into subprime contracts.

Wells Fargo paid $85 million last year to settle the Federal Reserve charges, without admitting wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, other major lenders -- including HSBC and Countrywide, the troubled mortgage servicer later swallowed up by Bank of America -- have faced similar accusations.

A former vice president at JPMorgan also reportedly told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that account executives at that bank sought out financially vulnerable customers -- people with limited fluency in English, or little education or experience with the mortgage process -- and urged them into subprime loans. These borrowers were disproportionately black and Latino, Kristof writes.

None of this was without consequences. Black and Latino homeowners were 70 percent more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure in the three years leading up to 2010.

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