Banks, Credit Unions brace for shutdown’s effects

By Laura Alix

Americans woke up this morning to news that the government had been shut down at midnight after Republicans and Democrats in Congress bickered and bartered over Obamacare and ultimately failed to reach an agreement over how to fund government operations in time to avert a shutdown.

For those federal and military employees deemed non-essential, that means going without a paycheck for an undetermined period of time, but what that means for Massachusetts’ community banks and credit unions is a little less clear in the immediate term.

Most of the primary banking regulators, like the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are still open throughout the shutdown.

But banks that make government-guaranteed loans could face a backlog of loan applications as those federal agencies are shuttered during the impasse in Congress.

The Small Business Administration, for example, is closing all its loan programs, save its disaster loan program. Earlier this year, the SBA was poised to lose $92 million from its budget, and budget cuts could also mean the SBA is unable to staff its Small Business Development Centers and SCORE chapters.

The effects on consumer confidence may be a little more difficult to quantify, and it’s hard to determine at this point what kind of impact the shutdown will have on loan demand at banks that have been struggling with a ready supply of credit and a lack of demand from qualified borrowers.

The government shutdown will also not impact the operations of the National Credit Union Association, which is self funded and does not rely on congressional appropriations.

Credit unions, particularly those that serve federal and military employees, have been anticipating the shutdown since earlier this year, when the threat of sequestration loomed in the spring, said Rob Kimmett, spokesman for the Massachusetts Credit Union League. Hanscom Credit Union and Service Credit Union, in particular, are offering their members a special zero percent interest loan to help pay for bills and groceries in the meantime.

Though larger credit unions that offer SBA loans and other government-guaranteed loans would feel the pinch in that particular area, Kimmett said that’s a somewhat longer-term concern.

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