Landscape for business refinancing wide open, bankers say

Go local for low rates, veterinarian suggests

January 8, 2009 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

With U.S. credit markets frozen, veterinarians might believe small-business refinancing is a lot like winter: cold and difficult.

The truth, bankers say, is that as the feds slash interest rates, loans are thawing in the small-business lending sector — at least for medical professionals, including DVMs.

Now is the time to refinance, Dr. Laurie Ward, of Cortez, Colo., says.

Ward, who refinanced with a local bank last October, now saves $1,043 a month after rolling her two business loans into one at a 6-percent, five-year fixed interest rate.

“Lenders were falling all over to help me in any way they could. I was just floored. When all the banking stuff went down, I thought I would be in trouble. I didn’t think it would work,” she says.

Matthew Sutton, a loan officer with Bank of America, isn’t surprised, although he’s heard that business lending has tightened up within some commercial banks. Still, with home mortgage rates at a 40-year low, it’s natural for some of that cheap money to trickle into the business-borrowing sector.

“A good indication of that will be at NAVC (North American Veterinary Conference, Jan. 17-21), where we’ll see which veterinary-specific lenders are still attending,” he says. “I can’t speak for the marketplace, but at Bank of America, it’s business as usual. We’ve been picking up a lot of business. Rates are low all over the place.”

When asked for numbers, Sutton refuses to get specific, except to say that, “variable-rate lending is at an all-time low” and interest rates can “range from 6 to 10 percent.”

But the lowest rates only will come to those with “extraordinarily good credit scores,” says Marsha Heinke, DVM, CPA, owner of consulting and accounting firm Veterinary Practice Made Perfect. After all, the refinancing boom is in the home mortgage market, not with business lending, she says.

“I just don’t see anyone getting rates below 6.25. Considering the risk in lending to businesses and given the tight credit market, it’s my personal belief that veterinarians aren’t going to see better than what they’ve got,” she says.

Don Stock, manager of PNC Bank’s medical segment, refutes that assessment, adding that veterinary medicine is one of his fastest growing sectors. With the recent acquisition of National City Bank, PNC plans to house 37 bankers devoted solely to healthcare deals.

It’s the type of business that lenders are interested in because the risk is low, he says.

“Refinancing another bank’s debt is new business to us, and we’re taking it,” Stock says. “With the way rates are today, veterinarians are purchasing their own buildings as well as refinancing.”

The key, Bank of America’s Sutton says, is to be sure that refinancing makes sense from a cost standpoint, which includes fees and payoff penalties.

“There’s a lot more to it than rates,” he says.

That’s one of the reasons Ward decided to go local when choosing a refinancing deal — a move she recommends for other veterinarians.

“Our goal was to get away from the faceless corporation,” she says. “We decided to stay local and try to bring the money into the community as much as we can. We’ve got to stay local to get through this recession.”

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