South Ala. bank steps up to help customers in midst of COVID-19 outbreak

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LUVERNE, Ala. (WSFA) -- Luverne dentist Dr. Eddie Billings is all smiles today, not because his dental practice is shut down but what’s happening a few blocks away with his lender.

“It makes more sense to at least have it in place to take advantage of it,” said Billings.

Billings is a bank customer. A business loan from First Citizens helped him get his practice off the ground in 1999. He is more than pleased with the new loan deferment program underway right now.

“A little nervousness there; if the patients don’t have any income to help, then I don’t get paid,” he said.

“We’ve yet to see defaults which is a good thing,” said First Citizens Bank President & CEO William Petrey.

Bank leaders say it’s pretty straightforward; they are suspending principal payments on all business loans for 90 days. Customers like Dr. Billings will only be responsible for the interest on the loans.

“And hopefully if this thing is short enough, that’ll be enough time they won’t ever miss payment," said Petrey.

The bank reached back in its playbook from the Great Recession, a strategy that worked then, they said, and have no doubt it’ll work again. Even better, they have enough capital in the bank to make it all work.

“It’s a win for the bank. A win for the customer. It doesn’t cost them anything with the credit bureau, credit scores are important,” Petrey said.

“I would be a lot more nervous,” said Billings.

For Dr. Billings, the waiting game to get back to work just became a little less stressful with a few dollars chipped away from his monthly payment.

First Citizens Bank officials the combined loan totals around several million dollars. They estimate around 35 business owners will have signed up in the next few days.

The town of Luverne is beginning to feel the effects of layoffs from various businesses.

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