Fifth Third Bank expands employment program for troubled borrowers

Fifth Third Bank is expanding a program to help unemployed mortgage borrowers find a job to avoid foreclosure.

Georgia's foreclosure rate last year ranked fourth in the nation, as it did in 2011, according to RealtyTrac. One in every 39 homes in the state received a foreclosure filing last year, although it was a slight improvement from one in every 37 homes a year earlier.

Up to half of mortgage delinquencies are due to job loss, according to Steven Alonso, who heads parent company Fifth Third Bancorp’s consumer bank.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, which has branches in metro Atlanta, launched a pilot employment assistance program last year with the help of NextJob, a re-employment services company. During the pilot, unemployed borrowers at serious risk of default on their mortgages received one-on-one coaching, job search software and access to weekly job search webinars at no cost.

“This is specific, one-on-one training that helps people identify their transferable skills and regain the financial stability of a new job,” Alonso said in a statement about the program.

The bank said borrowers in the program had been out of work for 22 months on average, but after six months nearly 40 percent were fully employed. Fifth Third Bank said it’s the first financial institution to offer such assistance to mortgage customers.

Just last month, 10 major mortgage companies agreed to pay more than $8.5 billion to settle claims of abusive foreclosure practices. The companies in the settlement are SunTrust, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Aurora, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, MetLife Bank, PNC, Sovereign and U.S. Bank.

Federal regulators said the deal would get compensation faster to affected homeowners and aid borrowers who are currently in financial trouble.