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Financial Firms, Insurers Offer Help To Storm Victims

Banks, insurance companies-- even mortgage giant Fannie Mae-- are offering help to customers suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy, with programs ranging from waivers on late fees to credit line increases. TD Bank, Sovereign, Citizens and Bank of America...

By Dave Solomon, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 01--BANKS, Insurance Companies -- even mortgage giant Fannie Mae -- are offering help to customers suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy, with programs ranging from waivers on late fees to credit line increases.

TD Bank, Sovereign, Citizens and Bank of America have all announced assistance programs. Most include waiver of non-bank ATM fees, overdraft fees, and returned-item fees if consumers can demonstrate the fees resulted from the storm.

Customers may have been unable to use online banking or otherwise get to the bank for payments that would have avoided the fees. They may have had no choice but to use a non-bank ATM, or could have confronted any number of conditions that will qualify them for the waivers. Customers will see the fees on their statements, and will have to request the waivers.

The best way to find out if you qualify for any of the waivers is to contact your bank and explain your circumstances. "Customers should not take risks in dangerous weather to make a deposit or a payment to prevent a potential late fee or overdraft," said Nandita Bakhshi, executive vice president at TD Bank. "If a customer is assessed these charges or fees due to Hurricane Sandy, we can assist in offering a refund."

TD Bank customers are eligible for waivers on overdraft fees, returned-item fees and fees for using ATMs not owned by TD Bank. The bank is also offering refunds on late fees for consumer or small business loans and credit cards in storm-related situations.

Qualified Bank of America customers can get modified or extended payments on loans, credit cards or lines of credit. Bank of America is also offering to waive early withdrawal penalties on certificates of deposit and to refund fees on overdrafts, non-sufficient funds and for using another bank's ATM, if the fees were incurred as a result of storm conditions.

A spokesman for Citizens Bank said the company will be rebating a variety of overdraft, ATM and credit card fees incurred during the storm on transactions posted from Oct. 29-30. Sovereign Bank launched a program on Monday to refund several fees, including late payment fees on consumer and small business loans, for qualified customers.

Some of the banks have also announced donations to storm relief. The TD Bank Group and Charitable Foundation is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross to support hurricane relief efforts, while the Bank of America Foundation announced a $1 million donation, with $500,000 going to the American Red Cross and $500,000 targeted to national, regional and local nonprofits to support long-term recovery efforts.

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Cigna, one of the state's largest health insurers, is offering a hurricane assistance program for services provided from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4. The company is waiving pre-certification, referral and hospital admission requirements for qualified customers, suspending early refill limits, and will pay claims for out-of-network services at in-network rates.

Mark Slitt, a Cigna spokesman, said computer systems will be temporarily modified to allow for the waivers, and that customers won't be pressed by the company to prove their situation was storm-related. "It's for a limited period of time, in a limited geographic area, and it's on the honor system," he said.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is offering similar waivers until Nov. 12, and is also making its employee assistance program available to all of its members regardless of their policy type. Free services include telephone-based counseling and assistance in locating needed resources.

Other banks and insurance companies may roll out similar programs in the days ahead, so consumers should question any bank fees or health insurance costs associated with the hurricane.

Fannie Mae urged mortgage providers throughout the country to offer assistance to any borrower affected by the storm. "We understand the disruption that a storm such as Sandy can have on people's lives, and we've made it easy for our servicers to offer relief to those who need it," said Leslie Peeler, senior vice president at Fannie Mae, the federally chartered lender that provides funds to banks and mortgage companies for home loans.

According to Peeler, "Under Fannie Mae's disaster relief guidelines, a bank or mortgage company can temporarily suspend or reduce a homeowner's mortgage payment for up to 90 days if the servicer believes the disaster has adversely affected the value or habitability of the property, or if the natural disaster has temporarily impacted the homeowner's ability to make payments on their mortgage."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.

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(c)2012 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Visit The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.) at www.unionleader.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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