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Vermont Banks Benefit - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont Banks Benefit

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Mark Russell Mark Russell

Orwell, Vermont - September 29, 2008

"I'm grateful to do business in a place like this," Mark Russell says.

The Orwell farmer banks locally at the state's smallest financial institution, the First National Bank of Orwell.

"I'm glad we have a little independent bank like this one here where they make sure you are financially secure before they lend you money," Russell says.

And banking officials say that's a big reason why financial institutions in Vermont continue to fare well-- setting higher borrowing standards.

Smaller Vermont banks typically know their customers, what they can afford and what their property is worth.

"We insisted on 20 percent down. We know the property and see it every day and we know the owner and that's the difference I think between Vermont banks and Washington Mutual or wherever," explains Mark Young, president of the First National Bank of Orwell. "The Vermont banks I think have been lucky... I think Vermont is lucky that we haven't had the turmoil in the real estate markets and the financial markets like the rest of the country."

As Vermonters watch large financial companies crumble, Young says they're looking for safer places to invest or borrow.

Deposits are up 6 percent at the Orwell bank. And state officials say the 20 other banks and 30 credit unions headquartered here have seen deposits rise, too. Lending is also up-- by 30 percent at the First National Bank of Orwell.

"I think they look for simplicity," Young says.

But Young fears continued financial woes at the national level could be disastrous everywhere if people begin to store money in mattresses or ice boxes like the days of the Depression.

"I'm nervous about that and I hope they don't do that," he says. "They would be well advised to put it where it is safe and where it is insured and will grow with interest."

Another potential hurdle-- short-term borrowing.

When banks need extra cash to lend out they typically get it from out-of-state financial institutions.

"If markets are in trouble could have a hard time finding that short-term lending," Young says.

Mark Russell believes his small bank will weather the nation's big financial mess.

"I'm fairly confident this bank will survive," he says.

Vermont is not immune to this crisis, of course.

If the turmoil continues, our banks could have a hard time getting money to lend out. The state's deputy commissioner of banking says we'll have to wait and see what happens now that the bailout did not go through.

But what's really saving us here is that our real estate market remains relatively strong and values have not been over-inflated. So, experts say even if home prices are depressed a bit, there's still enough equity in those properties so the financial mess shouldn't be as bad.

FDIC insurance guarantees deposits up to $100,000 into your bank accounts.

There are ways to insure more money in your accounts; you should talk to your bank about that. You can also spread your wealth around to several banks to make sure you are covered.

For more on how to insure your money and other banking information log on to:
Vt. Dept of Banking, Insurance, Securities & Health Care Administration --
www.bishca.state.vt.us/BankingDiv/banking_index.htm

OR -- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- www.fdic.gov

Darren Perron - WCAX News

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