This might sound like a meaningless difference, but banks are given credit for modifying a 2nd mortgage, but in the event of a foreclosure, they are subordinate to 1st mortgages, and so are wiped out.
This means that the foreclosure modification means nothing, though the banks get credit for it anyway:
In January, federal regulators announced an $8.5 billion agreement with 10 mortgage servicers to settle claims of foreclosure abuses, including bungled loan modifications and the wrongful evictions of borrowers who were either current on their payments or making reduced monthly payments.I would note here that the author, Elizabeth M. Lynch who is a lawyer who provides free civil legal aid,is being rather charitable: she thinks that the banksters are taking advantage of loopholes in the settlement.
Under the deal, announced by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the mortgage servicers will pay $3.3 billion to borrowers who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 and an additional $5.2 billion to reduce the principal or the monthly payments of borrowers in danger of losing their homes.
The problem involves second mortgages, which millions of homeowners took out during the housing bubble. It’s estimated that as much as a quarter of all mortgage debt in the United States is in the form of second mortgages. Some of these loans were taken out to finance home improvements; others were part of a subprime product known as an “80/20 mortgage,” in which 80 percent of the purchase price was covered by a first, adjustable-rate mortgage, and the remainder by a second mortgage, often with a much higher interest rate.
The second mortgages have given the banks a loophole: each dollar a bank forgives goes toward fulfilling its obligation under last year’s settlement. But many lenders have made it a point to almost exclusively modify secondary loans while all but ignoring the troubled, larger primary mortgages.
It’s a real problem: when it comes to keeping your home, it’s the first mortgage that counts.
Why would a bank forgive a second mortgage completely but move forward with foreclosure on the first mortgage?
Surprisingly, such a tactic often makes sense for banks. When a lender forecloses on a first mortgage, the house in question is typically sold at auction. If the house is worth less than the loan amount, the bank gets only part of its money back. But after the sale, of course, there’s no asset left to pay off any of the second loan. The holder of that second loan — which has lower priority than the holder of the first — gets nothing.
So a lender can forgive a second mortgage — which in the event of foreclosure would be worthless anyway — and under the settlement claim credits for “modifying” the mortgage, while at the same time it or another bank forecloses on the first loan. The upshot, of course, is that the people the settlement was designed to protect keep losing their homes.
I believe that the intention of the deal on the part of the Fed and the OCC was to create a meaningless "Potemkin Agreement". They never intended to create better behavior.
Their goal was to indemnify the banks and to generate some propaganda to deflect moves toward real accountability.