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Credit unions are bracing themselves as the wave of economic distress from the COVID-19 pandemic reaches members from coast to coast.

CU Times has been reaching out to credit unions to check on how the spread of the coronavirus has changed their expectations for the year, and ways that they’re reaching out to help members.

This story checks in with two credit unions with members dispersed across the country: PenFed Credit Union, Tysons, Va. ($24.8 billion in assets, 1.9 million members) and Alliant Credit Union, Chicago ($12.2 billion in assets, 493,675 members).

Alliant President/CEO David Mooney said the pandemic’s impact will be significant, but the size of the hit is unclear.

“The severity will depend on the length and depth of the crisis, which no one can call at this time.

“We do know that interest rates will remain at extremely low levels, compressing net interest margins, and loan delinquency and charge-offs will increase – by how much, no one knows. We run a number of scenarios in our planning, so we have some idea of the potential impacts, but this is uncharted territory,” Mooney wrote in an email on March 20.

In the meantime, Alliant has activated a variation of its emergency unsecured loan program, which includes discounted rates and first payment deferrals.

“We’re receiving an increase in requests for loan modifications and working with borrowers to defer payments where appropriate,” Mooney said.

PenFed President/CEO James Schenck said he remains confident that results for 2020 will be as good or better than 2019.

The value of its consumer loan originations, including credit cards and auto loans, are up 30% from 2019’s first quarter, and mortgage originations are about three times higher.

“We’re originating over $1 billion a month in consumer [loans] and mortgages,” Schenck said.

In the second quarter, Schenck said he expects mortgage refinancings will remain stay triple last year’s level.

“We’ve got a billion dollars in the pipeline for April, May and June. The second quarter in mortgages is through the roof,” he said.

The economic impact from COVID-19 will be felt in the second quarter as PenFed members spend less on their credit cards, as “people shelter in place, not buying airline tickets, hotel rooms or eating out as much.”

“Credit card volume will go down, but the loss of that volume will be made up by people applying for personal loans,” Schenck said.

PenFed also said it expects members will be buying fewer new cars in the second quarter, but lower interest rates will drive many new members to PenFed to refinance their car loans.

On balance, Schenck expects second-quarter loan originations to be 20% to 22% higher than 2019’s second quarter.

The rest of the year?

“Too soon to tell,” Schenck said. “But PenFed is optimistic with some of the antiviral treatments. If we stay strong to the social distancing, we’re hoping for an even stronger back half of the year.”

With many of its members being active or retired military personnel, PenFed tends to have more stable trends and higher credit quality than most financial institutions, Schenck said.

“We’ve been through hurricanes, we’ve been through tornadoes, we’ve been through 9/11,” Schenck said.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve built a very high credit-quality portfolio. But we’ve built programs that include skip-payments, very low-interest personal loans and other loss-mitigation programs for our members if they do come upon hard times,” he said.

While Schenck said he expects delinquencies to increase across all credit bands, he said he expects PenFed’s 11% net worth ratio to rise further in 2020.

“We have a very strong balance sheet,” he said. “All hands remain calm. This too will pass.”