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News >  Business

Spokane-area banks offering unemployed workers mortgage, loan payment deferments

UPDATED: Tue., March 31, 2020

Spokane Teachers Credit Union  is among Spokane-area banks and credit unions that are now offering loan payment deferments to help borrowers weather economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus outbreak. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Teachers Credit Union is among Spokane-area banks and credit unions that are now offering loan payment deferments to help borrowers weather economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus outbreak. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane-area banks and credit unions are now offering loan payment deferments that allow anyone who has lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak to put a hold on paying mortgages and some loans to help them through the crisis, officials said.

The key, several bank executives said Tuesday, is that anyone financially affected should immediately contact their lender to find out what options are available. The relief is also being made available for personal loans, home-equity lines of credit and some credit card balances.

“This is truly an unprecedented time of unemployment,” said Jack Heath, president and chief operating officer of Washington Trust Bank. “It’s the result of a medical pandemic, not because of a collapse of the financial system like in 2008. So, what we are trying to do is support businesses and individuals through this challenging time.”

Washington Trust and Spokane Teachers Credit Union are offering 90-day deferrals for mortgage payments for workers who suddenly found themselves out of work.

“We have a number of great programs in place to help people work through all kinds of short-term and long-term disruptions,” STCU President and CEO Ezra Eckhardt said. “We have a team of people that work through loan restructures for everybody.”

Of course, some of the programs have caveats, such as being a member of the credit union in good standing. But the goal is to find a way help suddenly-out-of work persons avoid allowing their loans to go into default, Eckhardt said.

“We are member-owned. We put all of our energy into preserving their financial interests,” he said. “It is in our members’ best interest to come up with a proactive plan to help.”

Along with 90-day deferrals, details are being hammered out this week at the federal level to extend that mortgage relief to a full year, if necessary, Eckhardt said.

“We are set up to cover people for 90-day deferrals” on principal and interest payments, he said, “and we could have a solution for up to 12 months once they get the rules rolled out.”

Canopy Credit Union is offering a slightly different package, but is allowing people to pay only interest on consumer loans. Anyone with an issue paying their mortgage should call the credit union directly.

However, the credit union is making $2,500 zero-interest loans available to its members with the first payment not due for 100 days, Canopy spokeswoman Susan Cerutti-Jensen said.

“When they are not sure what the future holds, this gives them that peace of mind,” she said.

Guy Ottersen, vice president of lending at Canopy, said the credit union has already approved $66,000 in zero-interest loans for its members.

“For days, we’ve been working at a breakneck pace to book these loans as quickly as possible,” Ottersen said in a statement. “Receiving positive feedback has kept morale high during this stressful time.”

Heath, of Washington Trust, said the programs are not relieving clients of debt, but they are designed to put off the payments until the members can get back to work, whenever that occurs.

“All of us in financial institutions are looking to see how we can support our customers in this challenging time and help them recover in an accelerated manner,” he said.

Heath noted these programs are only available to those people who have lost their jobs.

“If you have the ability, I would continue to make payments,” he said. “In the event that were to change, these programs would be available to you.”

Kelly McPhee, spokeswoman for Walla Walla-based Banner Bank, said her institution has enacted several options to help members.

For instance, Banner Bank has increased daily limits of ATM withdrawals and waived early-withdrawal penalties if someone is forced to pull money from certified deposits, also known as CDs.

“Our options for payment deferrals include mortgages, home-equity lines, personal loans, credit cards and small-business loans,” McPhee said. “In commercial loans, we are really actively working with our clients for anybody who feels they need help.”

Banner Bank, which operates in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California, is also the top local lender for U.S. Small Business Administration loans, she said. Banner has worked to expedite the loan application process for those emergency government loans.

“On Monday, we got over 1,500 inquiries” about SBA loans, McPhee said. “We took folks from other departments and retrained them. Our normal business operations would not be able to handle that kind of volume.”

But with so many people reaching out to the financial institutions, all of them cautioned customers must remain patient. They also suggested emailing institutions to avoid long waits on the phone.

“We’ve mobilized to the point that once information is available, we are able to share it and we are processing the requests simply as fast as we can,” McPhee said. “But the information is still evolving as people are interested.”

Regardless of where Spokane-area residents bank, they need to contact their lenders about any potential problems, the lenders said.

“Once we get through this,” McPhee said, “we want to have consumers to be in a strong positions without a lot of past-due debt and businesses in a position to quickly employ people, because they are the economic engine that will drive us out of this problem.”

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