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Now at your local bank: Hurricane specials

In affected states, cut-rate loans for homeowners who hustle.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 30, 2011 8:58AM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.

 

So you survived the hurricane. How about a loan?

 

That's the nothing-if-not-timely pitch from at least two banks now offering "hurricane specials" -- discounted loans for consumers in mid-Atlantic states hit by Hurricane Irene this weekend.

 

M&T Bank has lowered the rates on personal loans (read: no collateral required) to as low as 5.99%, compared with its standard starting rate of 8.99%, says spokesman Kent Wissinger. SunTrust has cut the rates on several loans, including a home-equity line of credit with a below-prime rate for the first three years and no closing costs. Both offers expire by the end of September.

 

The banks say these loans are intended to help customers make repairs, or at least get by until an insurance check comes through. It's also an opportunity to build local goodwill and attract customers, and to some extent, it is standard operating procedure after natural disasters. Post continues after video.

After Hurricane Katrina, a much larger storm than Irene, many banks extended similar special offers. At the time, AMSouth, for example, offered deals including a home-equity line of credit for prime minus 0.50%, for what was then a total rate of 6%.

 

But critics say the timing is premature, at best. "There are still people that are deeply underwater, and I don't mean in real estate," says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates. "No one whose house has 5 feet of water in it is concerned about getting a home-equity loan."

 

Applicants just as likely may be people in the affected areas who didn't sustain hurricane damage but would like to remodel the kitchen. Neither M&T nor SunTrust require any proof that the purpose of the loan is related to Irene, although eligibility is restricted to consumers in certain counties and cities within affected states.

 

It may pay to wait

For homeowners who do think they'll need a loan to rebuild, or even as a stopgap until an insurance claim gets processed, it pays to wait. In markets that the Federal Emergency Management Agency designates as disaster areas, banks may be able to offer homeowners government-subsidized loans at below-market rates.

 

A FEMA spokeswoman said the agency will make that designation in "days to weeks" as it coordinates with state authorities to assess damages. Currently, the agency is only offering emergency assistance to state and local governments.

 

Even then, take time to compare rates among banks. Deals pegged to hurricane damage aren't necessarily the best out there, and it's important to hunt around to see what you might be eligible for, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. Many of the low-rates offers are for a limited time, and won't last the length of your repayment. "You have to look beyond the carrot of the initial interest rate," he says.

 

SunTrust's current home-equity offer, for example, shifts after three years to a formula of the prime rate, plus 0.99% to 4.99%, depending on the borrower's credit score. Today, that would result in a rate between 4.24% and 8.24%, which could be better -- or worse -- than the national average of 5.20%, according to HSH.

 

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