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Storm silver lining: Cheap loans

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It seems like the bad news just keeps on coming this spring, what with the tornadoes, high wind, torrential rains and subsequent flooding. There's a bit of sunshine in all this for those whose uninsured or under-insured property has been destroyed, however: low interest federal loans for those with damaged homes or property in the 13 Arkansas counties declared federal disaster areas and all adjacent counties.

U.S. Small Business Administration spokesman William Koontz said that homeowners in eligible counties whose houses were damaged or destroyed could qualify for a government loan of up to $200,000 at 2.68 percent interest to cover any repair or reconstruction expenses not covered by insurance. In addition, both homeowners and renters in those counties are eligible to receive up to $40,000 at 2.68 percent interest to replace or repair uninsured items like furniture.

Meanwhile, businesses are eligible to borrow up to $2 million at 4 percent interest to replace or restore assets not covered by insurance, and can file for "economic injury" loans to help cover lost business (such as in cases where a town was wiped out by a tornado or flood). The deadline for business economic injury loans is Feb. 2, 2012. The deadline to file for one of the homeowner or renter loans is July 1.

Koontz said that if a homeowner or renter files for a loan and is approved, the offer remains active for an additional six months whether they accept the money or not, so those who suspect they may need the money down the road should go ahead and file. Paperwork can be filled out at any FEMA disaster recovery center, which Koontz says should be up and running in towns affected by recent disasters soon. Applicants must present their credit history, show that they have the ability to repay the loans, and prove they have at least some collateral for all loans over $14,000 (though the SBA won't turn down a loan for lack of collateral). Damaged luxury items like RV's, vacation homes, airplanes, swimming pools and pleasure boats are ineligible. For more information, visit the SBA website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov, or call the SBA disaster assistance hotline at 1-800-659-2955.

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