A disaster relief loan program offered by five banks in Pennsylvania and Maryland has attracted a torrent of interest from customers.

Keystone Financial Inc., a $5 billion-asset holding company based in Harrisburg, Pa., is allowing customers affected by last month's floods to skip their loan payments for three months. Keystone will also make unsecured direct installment loans available to flood victims at the prime rate, while secured loans would be available at a half-percent below that. Interest from skipped payments would then be added to the balance.

Keystone senior executive vice president George Groves said the banks have received thousands of calls inquiring about the program, which runs from Jan. 2 to March 9. But he said many customers are waiting for a response from their insurance company before deciding whether to accept the bank's help.

The program "is a very proactive move," said Mike Heine, marketing director of Frankford Bank, Horsham, Pa, a Keystone affiliate. "We tried to reach out to the community. I would hope that our regulators see this as a positive accomplishment."

Three other Pennsylvania banks also are involved: Mid-State Bank, Altoona; Northern Central Bank, Williamsport; and Pennsylvania National Bank, Pottsville. American Trust Bank, based in Cumberland, Md., is participating as well.

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