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Get Ready for the Great MERS Whitewash Bill
CNBC.com | November 12, 2010 | 09:45 AM EST

When Congress comes back into session next week, it may consider measures intended to bolster the legal status of a controversial bank owned electronic mortgage registration system that contains three out of every five mortgages in the country.

The system is known as MERS, the acronym for a private company called Mortgage Electronic Registry Systems. Set up by banks in the 1997, MERS is a system for tracking ownership of home loans as they move from mortgage originator through the financial pipeline to the trusts set up when mortgage securities are sold.

The system has come under scrutiny by critics who charge MERS with facilitating slipshod practices. Recently, lawyers have filed lawsuits claiming that banks owe states billions of dollars for mortgage recording fees they avoided by using MERS.

If courts rule against MERS, the damage could be catastrophic. Here’s how the AP tallies up the potential damage :

Assuming each mortgage it tracks had been resold, and re-recorded, just once, MERS would have saved the industry $2.4 billion in recording costs, R.K. Arnold, the firm's chief executive officer, testified in 2009. It's not unusual for a mortgage to be resold a dozen times or more.

The California suit alone could cost MERS $60 billion to $120 billion in damages and penalties from unpaid recording fees.

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