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Banks may cut slack for tornado victims

Large credit card issuers offer relief case-by-case

By Emily Starbuck Gerson

An outbreak of 30 to 40 tornadoes whipped through the South on the evening of Feb. 5, 2008, killing at least 57 people. Damage in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars, and many are left without homes and personal belongings. The federal government, banks and credit card issuers are taking steps to make life a little easier for the victims.

Losing everything in a natural disaster makes it difficult to pay off a credit card bill or loan in a timely fashion. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Feb. 7 encouraged national banks to work with customers affected by the tornadoes, much as it did for the victims of the California wildfires in late 2007.

Some of the concessions the OCC is encouraging banks to make for victims include extending terms of loan repayments, restructuring a borrower's debt obligations and easing credit terms for new loans to certain borrowers.

CreditCards.com called the five largest United States credit card issuers and asked what if anything they were doing to offer relief to tornado victims. Four responded; Capital One did not.

Citi
Citi has promised to help those in need of assistance. "Citi card customers who were affected by the tornadoes in the Southeast should call the number on the back of their card or (800) 950-5114 if their card is lost," says Samuel Wang, vice president of public affairs for Citigroup Global Consumer Group.

"We are always available to assist Citi customers with a number of options to help meet their specific needs. Because of the scale of this emergency disaster and its diverse impacts on so many people, we believe it is important to respond quickly to our customers' individual situations. We strongly encourage our customers to reach out to us with any problems, concerns or questions," Wang says.

Chase
Chase spokeswoman Meg Stinson says because President Bush had not yet declared the affected region a disaster area, no specific relief efforts have been created for victims. "However, we are happy to work with customers on an individual basis, and we encourage the victims to give us a call and let us help them the best we can," Stinson says. Shortly after she spoke, Bush declared parts of Tennessee a disaster area.  Chase customers can call the number on the back of their cards or (800) 432-3117.

American Express
American Express is happy to work with tornado victims as well, says Desiree Fish, vice president of public affairs. "We did a number of things for the wildfires, but for the recent tornadoes, we are handling calls into the customer service number and looking at each customer's situation on a case-by-case basis," she says. Customers should call the number on the back of the credit card or (800) 528-4800.

Bank of America
Betty Riess, a Bank of America spokeswoman, says the bank is also working with tornado victims on a case-by-case basis. If customers are unable to track down the phone number on the back of their cards, she says they can call (800) 732-9194.

If you have been affected by the tornadoes but your bank has not yet issued a statement, call the customer service number, which can be found on the back of your card or on their website, to see if it will make exceptions for you. Many banks are willing to help you in extreme circumstances such as this.

To comment on this story, write Editors@CreditCards.com.

Published: February 8, 2008


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