NEW YORK – In the wake of the terrorist attacks, major banks, insurance companies, credit card issuers and utilities are going easy on customers, especially those in the New York and Washington areas whose lives have been turned upside down.
Many families lost heads of households. Many customers — businesses and individuals alike — have suffered financially in the tragedy. And a lot of bills have gotten delayed and payments gone astray amid the air travel and mail delivery problems caused by the attacks.
Big credit card issuers like Citibank in New York and MBNA Corp. in Wilmington, Del., sorted through incoming payments and made sure those delayed by problems with the mail did not incur penalty fees. Prudential Insurance Co. in Newark, N.J., extended the deadline for September premium payments to Oct. 1; for residents in and around New York and Washington, the deadline will be Nov. 14.
American Express, which lost its headquarters in the attacks, and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. provided cash advances and raised credit limits for customers in need, including small businesses.
In many cases, the companies have instituted procedures they normally would follow if a region were hit with a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane or tornado.
But the current effort goes beyond that, in part because the entire nation is reeling from the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history.
"This is a very important time in our country, and every institution is trying to help its customers," said Catherine Pulley, spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association in Washington. "We're all in this together."
Any costs to the companies are manageable, said MBNA spokesman Jim Donahue.
"In most cases we're talking about not charging fees that wouldn't have been charged anyhow," Donahue said. "Regardless, the cost to us in dollars doesn't compare to the cost in human misery and suffering that is part of this whole disaster."
All the companies said that customers hit with late charges or other fees because of problems beyond their control should call their corporate service centers and explain the situation.
"Like everybody else, we're going to be real liberal, especially in the hard-hit areas," said Jim Smith, a spokesman for Verizon telecommunications company, which is headquartered in New York.
Citibank and J.P. Morgan Chase are dealing with thousands of customers in their home markets with serious financial problems because of the attacks.
"We're trying to be extremely flexible given the tragic events that have happened," said Maria Mendler of Citibank. "If someone needs reduced interest rates, a couple of months without minimum payments, help with mortgages or other bank business, we're ready to help them."
At J.P. Morgan Chase, fees are being waived for retail and small-business customers, grace periods are being extended on mortgages and credit cards, and emergency credit lines and loans are being expedited. The bank also is offering a three-month moratorium on mortgage payments for customers directly affected by the attacks.