Four New York City-area banks are offering reduced-rate loans to applicants whose homes were damaged by a devastating storm last week.

The programs - at First Fidelity Bancorp, UJB Financial Corp., Chemical Banking Corp., and European American Bank - are designed primarily to help those who may not have adequate homeowners' insurance.

"We hope to generate some business from this, clearly ... but more importantly, as the largest bank in the state, we are trying to reach out to our customers," said Paul Levine of First Fidelity.

More than 12,000 Homes Damaged

The storm, considered the fiercest to hit the New York area in decades, damaged more than 12,000 homes in southern New York state, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

For secured home-improvement loans, First Fidelity and UJB, both based in New Jersey, are offering a fixed rate as low as 7.9% for seven years. That's a half-percentage-point discount from the normal rate at First Fidelity and a discount of a full percentage point at UJB.

EAB, based in Uniondale, N.Y., on Long Island, is offering a 7.95% rate, versus 9.95% ordinarily, while Chemical is offering 10.30%, versus 10.95%. Chemical's special rate is available only in New York.

For five-year, unsecured personal loans, First Fidelity, based in Lawrenceville, N.J., is offering fixed rates as low as 11%, versus 12.9% ordinarily. And New York City-based Chemical is offering personal loans at 13%, instead of 15.5%.

Approval Time Cut to Two Days

All four banking companies said the loans would be made within two days and would be free of closing costs and up-front fees. National Westminster Bancorp, based in New York, isn't reducing loan rates but is cutting approval time for a personal loan to two days, from about a week.

First Fidelity put no time limit on its program. Chemical said its would end Dec. 24. UJB is giving customers until Dec. 31, and National Westminster is giving customers until Jan. 15.

Keith Gumbinger, spokesman for HSH Associates, a New Jersey firm that surveys consumer interest rates, said it "was good to see the banks coming out with something like this" because they don't always do it. However, he said, the deals may not be quite as good as they sound.

Particularly for customers who just need to wait for an insurance check, Mr. Gumbinger said, it probably would make more sense to examine adjustable-rate home equity loans, whose rates are around 6%.

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