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Bucking national trend, credit access still good locally

WARRENSBURG Although newscasts report that frozen credit elsewhere in the nation is crippling businesses and hampering consumers lifestyles, Warren County residents still have reasonable access to borrowing the money they need, local business representatives said this week. Interest rates may have increased and credit requirements tightened some, but money is still available here unlike many regions nationally, they said. Linda Marcella, broker at Adirondack Real Estate in Warrensburg, conducted a survey this week of area lenders and shared her results with the Adirondack Journal, after representatives of banks and mortgage companies declined to talk about the prevailing credit market. Marcellas survey included First Niagara Bank, Countrywide Financial and Glens Falls National Bank. Marcella said she was pleasantly surprised with what she heard from the lending institutions. I found the responses I got to be reassuring, she said. The lenders have obviously tightened their belts, but within reasonable standards. This time last year, Marcella said, an individual with no down payment and a credit score in the mid-500s would have been considered eligible for a mortgage. But now, most of the zero down programs have been eliminated and those that remain require a credit score in the 660 range, she said. Credit is out there for people with reasonable scores, she said. The lenders have just raised their minimums to match what people can actually afford. Marcella added that many lenders are requiring clean credit stretching back for 12 months. However, those seeking mortgages who do not meet the new standards may still qualify for state programs, she said, which may assist them in buying a home. Sometimes downturns are required to keep things affordable, Marcella said. Not everyone sees the recent financial belt-tightening in such a positive light, however. Steve Lauria, finance manager at Krystal Auto in Warrensburg, said credit approval takes longer now, and fewer car loans are approved. He typically arranges financing through TD Banknorth and Glens Falls National. You cant just get things pushed through anymore, Lauria said. I have been in this business for 20 years and this is the worst I have ever seen the availability of credit. Lauria said that during the last two weeks, many people have been turned down for auto loans, despite in some cases urgent needs for basic transportation. I had to tell a woman last week that she couldnt get a car because she didnt have a co-signer with a credit score in the 700s, he said. Without a car she cant get to work. Lauria said that over the last several years, banks would rehash loan applications, exchanging counter-offers. This practice has evaporated since mid-September, he said. The banks require a minimum credit score of 640 now, he said. Last year it was in the mid-500s. For those who do meet the requirements and can get a loan, sweetheart interest rates may be a thing of the past. Austin Markey, sales manager at Warren Ford and Mercury in Warrensburg said there was a .25 percentage-point increase between Sept. 17 and Oct. 1 at both local banks. He said that he expects the increases to continue. Its not necessarily harder to get a loan, he said.

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