On day one, the small business loan application process was plagued by problems


The $ 350 billion federal program – called the Paycheck Protection Program – was a key part of the recently passed $ 2,000 billion COVID-19 stimulus package. The Paycheque Protection Program is a back-up plan designed to provide loans, backed by the federal government, that become grants if the money is used for payroll and other general operating expenses.

Despite major implementation issues, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted Thursday evening that the program is up and running with a link to application guidelines.

But across the United States, in banks big and small, the program just isn’t operational yet. And experts said it would take a week before the program was fully operational.

Wells Fargo said on its website Friday, “Financial institutions like ours continue to receive program implementation advice from the SBA and the US Treasury. Unfortunately, therefore, Wells Fargo will not be able to start accepting applications on Friday, April 3. When we can accept applications, you will find a link to that application on this page, so check back often.

“The apps were just released a little over 12 hours ago, literally in the middle of the night,” said a banking industry official. “Some loans will be made today and we hope the system will be fully operational early next week. It’s important to remember that banks received the Operator’s Manual for a $ 350 billion program at 6.30 p.m. the day before it was launched. The expectations were unrealistic, but rest assured that the banks are doing everything humanly possible to make this system operational and help small businesses. “

On Friday evening, two separate banking sources told ABC News that applications from potential borrowers and lenders were not received until 10:30 p.m. Thursday evening.

In addition, some new lenders are having difficulty accessing the SBA application site called “E-Tran,” according to two industry sources.

A source said there were also security issues with the portal which are being addressed.

Although Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has touted his institution’s success in getting its program up and running in record time – telling CNBC the bank had received 10,000 requests on Friday morning – a huge anger was directed against online banking and by a powerful Senate committee chairman.

“BankofAmerica was bailed out with $ 45 billion of your tax dollars. But now I just heard #smallbusiness with a BOA account and 400k line of credit they paid off. The BOA declined the #PPP loan because it does not have a credit account. A ridiculous requirement that is nowhere in the law, ”tweeted Small Business Board Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla, who was integral to the creation of the new PPP program.

Moynihan told CNBC that his bank prioritizes those who have an established lending relationship with Bank of America.

“We give priority. We have a million borrowing clients that we’re trying to get through the system first. Then our second priority will be clients who have the main operating account with us but are not borrowing anywhere, ”Moynihan said. “For those who borrow from the other 4,000 banks in the country, we try to get them to come back to their bank. “

Still, small business owners who hold accounts with Bank of America but don’t have open lines of credit were surprised to find that their loan applications were turned down on Friday morning.

Patrick Slaughter, owner of a small law firm in Knoxville, Tennessee, says he has a business credit card and checks with Bank of America, but has never needed to apply for a business loan . With his loan application being denied for now, Slaughter says he may be forced to lay off his employees within weeks.

“It’s a touching thing for me. The truth is, I could probably retire and walk away. But I have too many people who didn’t do anything wrong who were hoping we would get this help from the government. “, Slaughter mentioned.

Slaughter said Bank of America contacted him within hours of learning that he was not currently eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan with a conventional loan or credit card offer.

“They are deliberately denying us this opportunity of the Paycheck Protection Program so that they can profit by selling us their loans,” Slaughter said.

“We know that for these companies speed is everything. We can move faster with our nearly one million small business borrowing customers. This is our priority in the short term. As the administration has made clear, going to your current loan bank is the fastest route to completion, ”Bank of America spokesperson Ball Haldin said.

Bank of America said the loans would soon become available to those without a loan relationship on Friday evening. A source familiar with the matter says it could happen in a few days.

A Bank of America official expressed frustration that the bank is apparently being targeted for turning down customers who do not have open lines of credit, given that the bank is one of the few requests to be actively processed. As of Friday afternoon, the bank said it has already helped more than 58,000 customers with SBA loans.

Lindsey Johnson, CEO of Weezie, a Georgia-based online linens retailer, said she spent the week looking into the CARES Act, preparing all of her financial information and staying up late at night for wait for the request to go live.

“No one ever mentioned the stipulation of having a loan relationship,” she said. Johnson has 28 employees she was able to keep on the payroll, but she said the situation was “very wait and see.”

“I feel like it was like an oversight. I hope Bank of America changes their requirements. I hope they will. It is in their best interests to keep their customers. If you can’t you turn to your bank on time like that, it’s like, where else are we supposed to go? “

Consumer Bankers Association President and CEO Richard Hunt advised patience on Friday, saying in a statement: “After receiving advice on how to implement a $ 349 billion program literally hours before ‘it doesn’t start, we ask everyone to be patient as the banks move the skies. and the earth to put a system in place and make it work to help America’s small businesses and the millions of men and women who work there.

But this message was incongruous with the statements of administration officials.

Just before noon on Friday, Secretary Mnuchin tweeted, “UPDATE #PPPloan now over $ 875,000,000, almost all processed from community banks!” Major banks are accepting applications and will be submitting them shortly. @SBAgov @USTreasury. “

And some insisted that all the problems with the paycheck protection program were minor.

“I think this program is ready,” National Economic Council chairman Larry Kudlow told Fox News. “They always have problems when they start. It’s a huge business, but at the end of the day these are secured loans and they will be forfeited if you cover your payroll and other expenses. You have eight weeks to do so. I think it’s a great opportunity, an interest rate of 1%. Again the US government guarantees these loans, also let me say to people who want to apply that they should act quickly. “

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Taylor Dunn of ABC News contributed to this report.

This report was featured on the Monday April 6, 2020 episode of “Start Here”, ABC News’ daily news podcast.

“Start Here” offers a simple overview of the best stories of the day in 20 minutes. Listen free every day of the week on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app, or anywhere you get your podcasts.


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