Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began closing businesses and lowering interest rates, banks in the Flathead Valley are reporting high numbers of phone calls, loan applications and mortgage refinances.
Banks have seen a lot of activity through the Small Business Administration’s $349 billion federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which authorizes forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the pandemic. But the loan program ran out of funding on April 16 and can no longer accept applications.
Glacier Bank Market President Bob Nystuen says the bank’s 16 locations had received 1,100 PPP loan applications as of April 16, which would total to $100 million if they all were processed.
“(This) is something that we never saw coming,” Nystuen said. “It’s a bit of a moving target and we’re constantly getting more applications. The SBA is out of funding for billions of dollars. However, we do know Congress is in session providing additional funding.”
Valley Bank President Chuck Eble said last week his bank had received around 70 PPP applications along with countless phone calls.
“As far as the program itself, I think its probably going to be reasonably successful at what it was intended to do, and that’s essentially to keep people employed and motivate the employers to keep their people working,” Eble said.
On April 3, small businesses and sole proprietorships were eligible to apply for PPP loans while independent contractors and self-employed individuals became eligible on April 10. The loan covers payroll costs, most mortgage interest, rent and utilities, according to the PPP information sheet.
In addition to PPP loans, both Eble and Nystuen also said many people are taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance their homes and consolidate debt.
With 15-year home mortgage loans as low as 2.25% and 30-year loans at around 3%, there’s been a significant amount of refinance activity, Eble said.
Nystuen also says many consumer loan customers are requesting payment extensions and deferrals. He’s also noticed significant growth in customer deposit balances.
“We’ve had people really be able to accumulate their savings and their cash and investments,” he said. “We saw that in the last (economic) downturn. People are more interested in having access to their cash and having that accessible in their bank accounts.”
Nystuen has also noticed increased construction activity and home purchases due to the lower interest rates from individuals with secure incomes, both locally and out of state.
“I think part of it is people that do want to relocate to Western Montana, especially out of the area,” Nystuen said. “Our construction lending activity has been very strong.”
As PPP applications continue to stack up, even after funding has run out, Montana West Economic Development President and CEO Jerry Meerkatz says his organization is continuing its own $225,000 loan programs.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who need a lot of help,” Meerkatz said.
With $125,000 in bridge loans and $100,000 for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Columbia Falls, the programs allow access to low-cost, flexible financing. Meerkatz says MWED is also working with the City of Kalispell on its own CDBG.
But MWED’s CDBG for Columbia Falls has only received one request. MWED Loan Officer Stephanie Juneau and Meerkatz speculate that Freedom Bank in Columbia Falls beat them to the punch with its own loan programs.
While the Columbia Falls CDBG remains available, small business owners in Bigfork, Whitefish, Kalispell and Somers are taking advantage of the Flathead Valley loan funds.
“The message I would like to get out is, ‘We have money, Flathead County (and) we will work with your bank,” Meerkatz said. “We’re an economic development organization and we are here to help these businesses.”
For more information on MWED’s loans, visit https://dobusinessinmontana.com/.
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