Experts ask for patience as small-business owners look for loan help

Posted April 7, 2020 4:28 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2020 8:12 p.m. EDT

— Business owners across the Triangle continue to struggle with the application process for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which is providing $350 billion in loans specifically for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

The rollout since last Friday has proven to be rocky and confusing for many banks and for customers hoping to submit applications.

"The banks can only process so much so fast. They are literally not going home at night. They are working through the night right now," said Peter Gwaltney, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Bankers Association.

Banks nationwide had processed more than $70 billion in loans to some 265,000 applicants by Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump said.

The banks are not used to the number of applications they are now being asked to review, which is causing delays and frustration. Also, Wells Fargo wasn't allowed to loan more than $10 billion under the program because of misconduct in 2018.

Colleen Canfield owns a massage business in Raleigh and was hoping to get a loan through Wells Fargo, but she didn't even get a chance to apply.

"We thought it was going to be a smooth process, and we had been in touch with our contact at Wells Fargo – [they] gave us a link – and we wake up that morning, and it's just gone," Canfield said.

Small-business experts recommend business owners who are Wells Fargo customers or who have not been able to get loans through larger banks to contact smaller, local banks, which may be able to help as the program matures.

"There are a lot of banks in North Carolina, so we typically suggest that they not only talk to their business bank about this but also a couple of other banks as well," said Alex Viva, director of strategy, growth and sustainability at the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center.

One of the biggest fears facing small-business owners is that the funds will run out before they get a chance to get a loan.

Gwaltney, who has been involved in conversations at the national level, said that should not be a problem.

"We were assured that the president and the leadership in Congress are committed to another appropriation to continue the funding of this program," Gwaltney said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said plans are in the works to put another $250 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program.

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