BURLINGTON, N.C. -- About nine years ago, a Burlington woman begged Wells Fargo to keep working with her to lower her mortgage payments. She had just lost her job, and the single mom was struggling to pay for the house she shared with her three kids.
Ultimately, the bank said no.
Her problems continued to mount. Choking back tears, Zsa Zsa Monique Conyers remembers she briefly thought about suicide, that her children would be better off without her. But she recalled thinking at the time, "I look at them in their face and be like, 'I can't do that. I can't leave them like that.' "
Conyers eventually lost her home, as did hundreds of others who made similar requests to Wells Fargo. But it turns out Wells Fargo made a critical mistake when it rejected all of those requests for modifications of their mortgages.
Last year, Wells apologized and admitted it wrongly denied or failed to offer about 870 mortgage modifications between 2010 and April 2018. In approximately 545 cases, customers like Conyers lost their homes to foreclosure.
Conyers is among the people who are now speaking out publicly about what happened to them and how their lives were upended in the aftermath of Wells Fargo's mistakes.
A common banking practice, mortgage modifications involve lowering monthly payments on loans to make them more affordable and help people avoid foreclosure. For instance, a bank can reduce the payments while extending the life of the mortgage. Banks may make these changes when homeowners struggle to pay back their loans, such as after a job loss.
To be sure, the homeowners bore responsibility too because they failed to make their mortgage payments, often for years at a time. But Wells acknowledged it erred by not granting a potential lifeline with mortgage modifications for people who should have qualified for them.
San Francisco-based Wells said it has set aside $8 million to compensate customers and last year began issuing checks to homeowners. Wells, which has a large presence in Charlotte, blamed its modification mistake on faulty software that it said wrongly disqualified eligible applicants.
But some victims say the compensation doesn't come close to atoning for the impact the foreclosures had on their lives. According to a class-action suit filed in December in California, a case which Conyers joined, the bank has sent checks ranging from $1,400 to $25,000.