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Government shutdowns have happened before, and companies such as San Antonio-based USAA have worked to ease the burden on federal employees who miss paychecks.
However, USAA is not providing that same safety net for its customers during the current shutdown, prompting anger from some who are vowing to take their business elsewhere.
“Your bank was established to help veterans,” Anchorage, Alaska, resident Rickey Starr posted in a letter to the company on Facebook. “I am a veteran, [disabled] veteran, who’s income is illegally suspended. The promise you made to veterans has been repeated multiple times from my lips, encouraging many people to your bank. I believed in your promise, and now realize it was nothing more than false advertising.”
Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the federal Department of Homeland Security, are required to keep working through the shutdown because of the vital nature of their service. But they are at risk of not being able to make payments on mortgages, car loans, and other recurring debt because they’re not being paid. Until the government reopens or lawmakers push through a bill that would allow them to be paid during the shutdown, members of the Coast Guard will go unpaid.
In the past, USAA has stepped in during government shutdowns and offered furloughed federal employees and people in special circumstances such as Coast Guard members no-interest loans to cover expenses until paychecks come and USAA can be reimbursed.
USAA is not offering those no-interest loans this time around while competitors such as Navy Federal Credit are continuing the practice.
A USAA spokesman was not available when asked for comment on Tuesday, but the company confirmed via a text message that details of a report by ABC News on the loans were accurate.
In that report, USAA said it had decided to offer members a one-time loan at a 0.01 percent interest rate, payable over 12 months instead of the no-interest loans it had made available in past shutdowns. The company said it made the change to plan for longer and reoccurring government shutdowns.
USAA has so far refused to say how many applications for those loans it has received and what the requirements are to receive them. The company also posted explanations for its policy change on its social media accounts this week.
“USAA is committed to helping all of our members when they need us most,” the company said in a Twitter post. “In light of recurring and potentially prolonged shutdowns, we are offering a low-interest loan that provides below-market rates and is subject to an underwriting review.”
Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act” last week but even if that measure became law during this shutdown, some furloughed government workers would continue to have trouble paying their bills until the government reopens and paychecks are issued.
Alice Veksler identified herself as a member of a Coast Guard family in a Facebook post to USAA asking the company for more transparency in regard to what is required to receive one of the new loans. She said her family and others she knew with good credit were being denied the loans.
“It seems that it is very difficult for those most significantly affected to receive any help with this loan program,” Veksler wrote. “Can you provide some transparency with respect to who can actually get a loan?”
USAA responded by asking Veksler to call an 800 number.
This is the second high-profile customer relations misstep for USAA’s banking operation in the past week. Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a consent order detailing how the company violated banking and consumer protection laws in recent years, with USAA agreeing to pay $15.5 million in a settlement.