Local banks offering relief amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • Greenfield Savings Bank  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kevin R. Day, president of Florence Bank, in the lobby of the bank's headquarters on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2020 1:08:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON – As financial challenges loom for people losing their jobs or seeing their wages and hours cut, local banks are making sure that customers with loans and mortgages can continue to meet these obligations.

Some banks, like Greenfield Savings Bank, have created a formal system, which it is calling the Residential Loan Relief Program, which allows customers to defer their mortgage and equity payments on their one- to four-family properties for up to 90 days. At other banks, the response is to respond to customer requests for relief on an as-needed basis. 

Kevin Day, president of Florence Bank, said though no specific program is in place, customers are welcome to contact a bank representative to determine the right approach for making payments if economic hardship means they won't be able to meet their obligations for mortgages and other loans.

For some, it may mean making an interest-only payment, instead of paying both the principal and interest. “That provides relief to customers to some degree,” Day said. 

For others, it could be giving them the ability to defer payments for a month or more. 

But Day said the bank wants to find the right option for each person and will decide case-by-case whether it is appropriate to pursue these kinds of deferrals. 

Day said so far 30 to 40 customers have requested some adjustment, a small number at this point considering the thousands who have loans and mortgages. Customers should get in touch with the bank's call center for these types of questions.

“We work with them to get them to the right areas,” Day said.

Greenfield Savings Bank President and CEO John Howland said the formal program his bank has launched features no processing fees and no impact on customers’ credit scores. Customers can choose between 30-, 60- and 90-day deferment options. The payments for those months will then be added to the back end of the mortgage loan, he explained in an interview with the Greenfield Recorder.

“We’re not requiring that people qualify for anything,” Howland said, adding that the requirement is, “have a mortgage, and call up and ask.”

A similar “payment holiday” program exists at Greenfield Cooperative Bank and its Northampton Cooperative Bank division for existing customers who have a portfolio loan.

According to Greenfield Cooperative Bank, those customers can defer their monthly payments coming up in April and May for up to 60 days by completing a simple form. The payments usually due for April and May would be added to the back end of the loan term. The term would be extended by two months to allow those payments to be made at the end of the original term.

At bankESB, any customer who calls will be given personal attention and walked through a series of questions that will determine what is the right approach for adjusting how these payments are made, said Dena Hall, the bank’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“We are able to work with each customer on an individual basis,” Hall said.

President and CEO Matthew Sosik writes in a letter posted to bankESB’s website, “On an individualized basis, we will consider options to support the needs of consumer loan and mortgage loan customers who may have difficulty meeting their payment obligations in the months ahead.”

James Sherbo, senior vice president of commercial lending at PeoplesBank, said flexibility is a key as people begin to reach out to the customer solutions center by phone or email.

“There are a number of different options depending on a customer's situation,” Sherbo said. “We like to speak to customers to get information and then go over those options.” 

Sherbo said the bank could modify the loan rate or term, defer some payments for a period of time, or adjust the products a customer is using.

“No one size fits all. It depends on their individual situation,” Sherbo said,

For all banks, it is important to make sure customers understand that they remain safe places. This has prompted the closing of lobbies and taking customers by appointment only for notary services, access to safe deposit boxes and other bank services.

Day said Florence Bank has put a lot of workers off site, and those who remain working in the buildings are at a safe distance from others. 

Sherbo said loan financing is still happening, and with a fully electronic process that can be done around the clock, PeoplesBank guarantees people can do business from the safety of their homes.

Hall said stepped-up cleaning and sanitation is happening for all functions at bankESB when people do venture to the drive-up tellers and ATMs. In addition, he said customers shouldn’t worry about banks disappearing due to the pandemic.

“The most important message is banks are open and we will always be here for customers,” Hall said.

Material from the Greenfield Recorder was used in this report. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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