Fed urges banks: Help Gulf Coast customers

July 14, 2010 at 3:36 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 14 (UPI) -- Banks with customers hurt by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill should speed up loans, ease credit and waive late fees, U.S. banking regulators said Wednesday.

"The regulators encourage financial institutions to work with their customers and consider measures to assist borrowers affected by this situation and its subsequent impact on local communities," the Federal Reserve and all the other U.S. banking regulators said in a statement.

"Efforts taken by financial institutions to work with their borrowers and customers in affected communities, if conducted in a reasonable and prudent matter, are consistent with safe and sound banking practice," the regulators' statement said.

The regulators -- also including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the National Credit Union Administration and the Conference of State Banking Supervisors -- urged banks to temporarily waive late payment charges, ATM fees and penalties for withdrawing savings too early.

They also encouraged banks to expedite loans "when possible" and extend or restructure debt and ease credit terms or loan fees, anticipating that oil company BP PLC will pay bank customers for claims for economic damages since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that loosed a torrent of crude oil in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

BP, which the U.S. government says is responsible for all cleanup costs and damage repair, has already paid more than $132 million in claims for economic damages, but affected businesses say these payments are not enough for them to pay their bills and stay in operation.

The new banking measures "could help customers recover financially and be better positioned to honor their obligations," the regulators said.

Banks will still be expected to recognize credit losses as soon as they are estimated, the regulators said.

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