Banks, credit unions alter policies, hours, services during pandemic

By Christian Avard
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Local businesses and residents are feeling the economic pinch from the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses are laying off workers; most are closed temporarily and some are going out of business.

Drive-thru banking is now the norm. Cars line up a respectful distance at the One Credit Union in Chester. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

The Vermont Department of Labor has been overwhelmed with new unemployment claims. Gov. Phil Scott is ordering all Vermonters to stay at home slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.

While people are being asked to stay inside their homes, the good news is local financial institutions are trying to help folks throughout the West, Williams, Black and Saxton river valleys to stay afloat.

“I have been banking for 39 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Michael Seaver, Vermont division president of People’s United Bank, which is based in Connecticut and has 403 branches in six Northeast states. “We’ve been through many recessions, but this is completely unique. To be shutting down our economy as significantly as we have and putting the numbers of people out of work in such a quick period, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

In Southern Vermont, People’s has branches from the the Connecticut River to the New York line, including those in Chester and Londonderry. 

On April 1, People’s announced it will address customer problems on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you have an account that is charged a fee unless you use your debit card a minimum number of times each month and you fall below that number because you are staying at home, the bank will look at refunding that fee if you bring it to their attention. The bank will also consider cancelling late/overdraft and ATM fees and waiving Certificate of Deposit penalties among others. Support for customers with consumer and business loans and individualized support are also available. 

People’s United relief initiatives include a 90-day foreclosure moratorium on eligible residential loans, extended payment terms, waived fees for business credit card holders.  educational resources and access to state and municipal loan programs. It had also offered help with obtaining the federal Small Business Association Paycheck Protection Program loans, which have just been suspended due to lack of funds.

The response, according to Seaver, has been overwhelming, adding that he has gotten “a lot of emails from customers saying thanks.” He also stressed customers should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to call if they need help.

Anyone struggling with paying the bills, covering child care and medical expenses or supplementing their lost income through other means are encouraged to apply to Heritage’s loan program.

Heritage Family Credit Union, with branches in Londonderry and Ludlow,  also is offering its members loan relief.

Heritage Marketing Director Carrie Allen said Heritage is offering a two-year loan at a 3.25 percent annual fixed rate for up to $5,000 or a fixed-four year loan of more than $5,000. Anyone struggling with paying the bills, covering child care and medical expenses or supplementing their lost income through other means are encouraged to apply.

Other Heritage relief initiatives include waived fees, deferral payments for consumer loans, mobile home loans, home equity line of credit and automatic overdraft line of credit.

“We’ll be here through the duration of the crisis,” Allen said.

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Heritage Family Credit Union: 2826 Vt. Route 100 in S. Londonderry (888-252-8932) and 198 Main St. in Ludlow (888-252-8932);  9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Drive-thru and by appointment only.

Mascoma Bank: 270 River St. in Springfield (802-885-4948). 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Drive-thru.  Additional services by video or phone appointment.

One Credit Union: 569 Route 103 S. in Chester (800-578-5024) and 380 River St. in Springfield (800-578-5024). 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Drive-thru.

People’s United Bank:  57 Main St. in Chester (802-875-2127); and 5700 Vt. Route 100 in Londonderry (802-824-3121). 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; Drive-thru and by appointment only.

Emergency loans, deferred payments

Susan Zahn, marketing director of Springfield-based One Credit Union, said she’s seen nothing like this ever happen before in the banking profession.

A pedestrian waits in line with vehicles at the drive-thru teller at the Chester People’s Bank.

Zahn said One Credit, with a branch in Chester, “was quick to roll out the emergency plans that we never hoped to use. The course and scope of the pandemic is unprecedented.”

One Credit Union is offering Emergency Relief Loans for those who need cash urgently. Members who have been recently laid off are encouraged to apply.

Other programs include loan modifications (such as payment deferments), upgrades on online banking and the One Credit Union mobile app, waived ATM fees and financial education via social media.

“We have been regularly posting on Facebook with articles about how to manage finances during the pandemic,” Zahn said. “These articles are getting terrific traction with engagement and shares.”

Mascoma Bank, which has a branch in Springfield, is also offering relief to individuals and business alike. 

“We’ve helped small businesses as well as homeowners to defer payments,” says Mascoma Bank President Clay Adams. “We’re active with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) and we’ve taken countless applications for the Paycheck Protection Plan,” part of the CARES Act that just ran out of money.

Many financial institutions are urging businesses to keep
applying since Congress seems poised to add to the fund.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, gives states the option of extending unemployment compensation to independent contractors and other workers who are ordinarily ineligible for unemployment benefits.

As of Thursday, money set aside for the PPP had all been utilized, according to an announcement from the Small Business Administration, which administered the funds. By that time, People’s United had already approved up to 11,000 loans under the PPP.

In a follow-up interview, Seaver assured customers who were already approved for loans will still receive them.

“People think if they haven’t gotten the money by now, they won’t,” Seaver said. “It’s not true. If you are approved you will get it.” And many financial institutions are urging businesses to keep applying since Congress seems poised to add to the fund.

Calls made to TD Bank, Community Bank N.A. and Claremont Savings Bank were not returned.

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About the Author: Christian Avard has been a journalist for more than 15 years, having written for Vermont publications such as The Deerfield Valley News, The Rutland Herald, The Commons and The Chester Telegraph. He also edited The Message for the Week and The Vermont Standard. Avard, who currently lives in Lebanon, N.H., is also a sports correspondent with The Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus.

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