Interest rate cuts keep banks busy

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 22, 2002

A year of interest rate cuts, with major cuts during the lasttwo months, has kept banks busy trying to keep up with customerrequests to refinance loans or borrow money.

“It’s been overwhelming. We’ve been putting in long hours andworking through our lunches, after hours and on weekends,” saidLisa Mitchell, assistant vice president of mortgage loan atTrustmark National Bank in Brookhaven.

The increased workload caused all of the area banks to shift afew positions around to help lessen the load in loandepartments.

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“We’ve had to add another staff member to be able to handle themortgage loan volume,” said Bill Sones, Bank of Brookhavenpresident.

Bank employees have been busy the last few months trying tocomplete the loan process for all their customers as quickly aspossible so they can lock in a low interest rate.

“I’ve been in banking since 1971, and rates are the lowest I’veseen in my banking career,” Sones said. “The Federal Reservelowered the federal discount rate 11 times during the year 2001,and at the end of the year the New York prime lending rate was 4.75percent.”

The low rates tend to mean more savings for consumers,especially those who owe money or need to borrow money.

“A lot of people are going ahead and making big purchases nowbecause they know they won’t get better interest rates,” said ConeyLea, senior vice president of First Bank.

Refinancing is also a good idea because people “can shortentheir terms and lower the amount they pay each month, which givesthem more cash flow,” Lea said.

“We’ve had a significant increase in people refinancing theirmortgages,” said Phil Magee, city president of State Bank.

Just as the low interest rates have brought good fortune tomany, they have also had a negative impact for a large number ofconsumers.

“You could call it a double-edged sword,” Magee said.

Lower interest rates also affect the money market accounts, likecertificates of deposit (CDs), making the returns low.

“That hurts a lot of people because we have so many people whoare on fixed incomes, like Social Security, and they rely on theinterest from their CDs,” Lea said. “Where as last year we werepaying 7 percent on a CD, now it’s at 2.7 percent.”

The major decrease in interest earned each month has forced alarge number of consumers to cut expenses to compensate for theloss, Lea said.

While those consumers may want the interest rates to come backup, many people looking to make big purchases are hoping they staythe same, and many seem to think they will remain stable.

“The rates went up a little while at the end of December, butnow they look like they’re on a down trend,” Mitchell said. “Thereare still very good interest rates right now.”