The fines hit some of the largest companies providing private mortgage insurance to homeowners.
Genworth U.S. Mortgage Insurance and United Guaranty Corp. each agreed to pay $4.5 million in penalties. Radian Guaranty Inc. agreed to pay $3.75 million and MGIC agreed to pay $2.65 million.
The companies, which did not admit any guilt, said they believed that the reinsurance arrangements were proper and did not raise costs for homebuyers. But all the firms said they settled to put the matter behind them.
Typically when a buyer puts less than 20 percent down, the lender selects the mortgage insurance company. Starting in the mid-1990s, a system was developed to allow for illegal kickbacks to lenders for lucrative business referrals, consumer bureau officials said.
Lenders set up so-called captive reinsurance arrangements — subsidiaries that provided secondary coverage — and steered mortgage insurers to their units for reinsurance, which spreads the risk of possible loan losses.
But insurers paid much more for reinsurance than the coverage was worth, the bureau said, essentially turning overpayments into lender kickbacks.
Kent Markus, the bureau's assistant director for enforcement, would not estimate how much extra money homeowners paid. He also would not name the lenders that are under investigation.