MaineStream Finance

Tag: covid-19

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A Call to All Bankers: we know the self-employed and neediest were not served by PPP. Let’s do what is right – not what is best for us next time.

As of Apr 15/16, the SBA PPP forgivable loan program was fully allocated despite thousands of loan applications still in process. BDN reports 1/10 small businesses received support. Top recipients: restaurants, hotels, law offices, and auto repair shops in Maine. A new allocation of $250 billion to $350 billion for PPP is in the works in Congress.

If you look at the average US PPP loan size, $239,152 per, the self-employed/sole proprietors did not fare well. That is roughly a business of $1.4 million in annual payroll costs – not counting other operating costs like costs of goods, etc. – and not your average self-employed. Maine banks and credit unions were fairer to all businesses with an average loan size of $157,000 or a company with annual payroll costs of $942,000 – but still not the self-employed (on average).

For this next PPP round or whatever it is called, let’s as the financial industry quit pretending we are out there doing this purely from the goodness of our hearts and for our concern for our communities. I am not attacking any one bank, or the SBA or Treasury, or our legislators – we love you all since we partner with so many of you and receive financial support from you (truth be told). The time that SBA and the banks had to implement was crazy – I applaud you in many ways and feel for you as you lost sleep and weekends. There are even some banks and CUs out there who did the right thing – who did not play favoritism or focus on the big “small businesses”. But please, please all of you (or most of you) do the right thing next time – please. We can do better.

The numbers don’t lie – we know what happened for the banking industry overall:

  1. Bigger, existing “small businesses” were served more because they are the ones you want to keep happy and not go under with bad debt. Punto. Period. Even if banks were not paid the fees they received by SBA (see below), who would they focus on? The ones with large loans that could go bad, with large investment accounts, sweep accounts, payroll services for hundreds of employees OR Joe Smith, the lobsterman (I’m in Maine.) with a $5,000-limit credit card he does not use and a checking account with an average balance of $200?
  2. You were paid handsomely for larger loans. We know you had the choice of being paid 5% on a $349,000 loan (fee of $17,450) and 5% on a $10,000 loan (fee of $500) – which loan did you do first? Please don’t cover it up or showcase your 1-2 $10,000 loans – you know what you did. Admit it now – do better next time.

I don’t understand why community lenders like us who are US Treasury certified and SBA microlenders are left out – not able to serve PPP loans. (News flash: PPP is just a type of PRI. PPP is not special or complicated or new. Nonprofits can take on PPP, i.e. a type of PRI, in our sleep with two arms tied behind our backs. Don’t know what a PRI is? A program-related investment, or PRI, is a “loan” that is forgiven if you hit certain donor/lender requirements or performance measures…sound familiar?) I’ll just assume lenders like us won’t be included and simply ask that for PPP or P3 or “Triple P” 2.0, we hope Congress, the SBA, and the US Treasury consider (and our banks and CUS ask for) the following:

  • carve out a significant portion only for the self employed in the new allocation. I did not run any numbers, but $50 billion of the $250 billion seems fair – 20% of the new allocation or 8.3% of the total (by the way – who chose $349 billion – was that one extra billion to go to $350B just too much?)
  • change/improve/increase the financial incentives to banks and credit unions to want to serve the self-employed and serve non-clients more (pssst – the banks aren’t really doing it for free…we just don’t see it)
  • improve on some of the PPP requirements that don’t work for non-service sole proprietors like fishermen and truckers with heavy fixed costs, e.g. not allowing those with Schedule C tax return losses to apply.
  • add time for self-employed and smaller financial institutions who truly serve the self-employed to apply and disburse the funds through July and August and truly help those FIs who serve self-employed to get set-up, find partnerships, etc.
  • assess and run the numbers on who “took care of their own”, i.e. served much bigger businesses who were long-standing clients, for P3 v.1 and those who truly focused on smaller loans/self-employed and new clients. For P3 v.2, reward those financial institutions who served the neediest more – pay them more, give them more allocation availability, and give them more liquidity.  Provide them technical support and match them up with tech companies who can make the process easier. Break P3 v.1 results down by bank, by bank/CU type and size, median loan size, by industry, by employee total, by race, by gender of the owner, by average employee salary, by organization type, and by geography – state and rural/urban, and, US Treasury and our friendly bank regulators, by census tract and average incomes by census tract….
  • reduce the overall friction to applying and accessing. Many things were done right by allowing businesses to attest to the truthfulness of the information, not requiring collateral, holding banks harmless for incorrect reporting, and allowing banks to make decisions quickly. But boy, was it complicated and confusing, especially for the self-employed. Now is not the time to get cute about trying to slip up the cheaters or those who misstate (though I guarantee you there are cheaters all around who took PPP loans – big, small, and tiny. They will get their due – we will find them out.)

Per the US Department of Labor, Maine is the second highest state with a high proportion of the self-employed (Montana is first). BDN has been sounding this alarm since early April here and here. Minorities and immigrants tend to be more self-employed. We at MaineStream work with low-income business owners (Yes! There are low-income business owners!) Whether you want to serve them or not, losing them to destitution and closure will hurt the overall Maine economy – this is a fact (Study: Maine has most vulnerable economy.) Do what is right – make it so – we can all do better. Give me a call or email me – I’d be happy to talk it through and on how to improve access regardless of the next “interim final” (my favorite term out of all of this) rule. We can do better – come on Mainers (who happen to be bankers/lenders).

Chris Linder, CEO, MaineStream Finance, Bangor, Maine

Originally published April 17, 2020

To find out more about Small Business issues during COVID-19, including financing, go here.

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Ran out of Federal/SBA Funds or Never Accessed Them? Here are some options for Small Businesses.

What can you do for funding in between Federal (SBA) and State (FAME) programs being available, when unemployment runs out, or when you re-open and not all your customers are bak?  It’s not all bleak and below are a few options that we have found over the last few weeks.  Do be careful– these are moving targets, funds are running out fast and must be replenished, and scammers are looking for you.  We at MaineStream and partners like SBDC and SCORE are here to help guide you through these issues along the way.

Grants (more are on our COVID-19 Small Business website in the “industry-specific” or “donations” sections)

Loans (lower cost and/or some other type of relief).  Please note, loans still must be paid back–carefully pause before borrowing and skip loans altogether if you don’t think you will pay it back. 

-Chris Linder

Portions published in the MaineBiz article, “Maine small-biz funding roundup: more loans, fintech and options for self-employed” on April 22, 2020.

To find out more about Small Business issues during COVID-19, including financing, go here.

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Help – I may have been a Victim of Fraud or Identity Theft – What do I do?

Many Mainers have experienced identity theft for unemployment fraud – here is what can be done

You have probably seen the news about thousands of Mainers being victims to scammers falsely filing for unemployment under their names (BDN, May 28, “Maine probing scores of claims as fraudsters target stressed unemployment system”).  This is extremely scary and an awful time to have to deal with it.  Maine does seem to be on top of it more quickly than other states.  Unfortunately, I personally have been part of at least 4 security breaches in the last five years, mostly for my credit card at big box stores, like Home Depot.  The worst part was when my personal information, including my social security number, was stolen when I worked for the Federal Government way back in the 1990s.  Credit card numbers and passwords can be changed, social security numbers cannot (generally). 

First Level – Immediate Steps: If you are notified of being a victim of unemployment fraud or if you find out via a phone call or letter that you are now receiving unemployment and you shouldn’t be, here is what is recommended:

  1. Call at least one of the 3 credit bureaus to report the fraud – I would suggest you call all 3.  At the same time, you can also ask them to put a freeze on your credit so that no new accounts can be opened in your name – usually is frozen for two years until you request to unfreeze them. Equifax: 1-888-766-0008 / Experian: 1-888-397-3742 / TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
  2. Let your bank know to look out for suspicious transactions on your bank accounts and credit cards.  You may want to ask for a new credit or debit card if you think those numbers have been compromised.   The more you communicate with your bank on what is happening, the more they will want to help you and make things right.  They are on your side in these cases. 
  3. Report the incident at the US Federal Trade Commission at or 1-877-438-4338. 
  4.  Notify the Maine Department of Labor for unemployment fraud.  It may not be worth waiting on line for a phone call so you might want to do it online:  Unfortunately, you could typically call the Maine Attorney General’s office but there are reports that they are not taking any new complaints right now. 
  5. Report the incident to your local police department.  While there is not much they can do, this protects you legally that you did your best when you make a claim for lost funds or to not pay a debt incurred. 

Second Level – Ongoing Steps

  1. Change your passwords on critical accounts like banking and your primary email accounts.  I may use a generic password for silly website requirements to register and access something, but when it comes to financial websites or personal email, each account has its own separate password with lots of letters, numbers and punctuation marks that do not spell out any words in the English language – example – instead of “ILoveMickeyMouse” – do “1L0v3M1ckeyM0u53!” It can be a pain but is worth it. 
  2. Be really careful of what personal info you share online and on social media– are you sure you want to share your address and your exact birthday on Facebook? It’s nice to get birthday wishes.  But Facebook does not need to know your exact birthday for you to get birthday wishes.   I always put in a fake year on social media – 1910 is usually my go to – they don’t need to know my exact birthday – just that I am over 18 years old. 
  3. Hold back info when they really don’t need it.  When I know someone like my son’s daycare already has the information or they just don’t need it, I leave it blank – do they really need my social security number for the 4th time?  The more paper with your information out there – the more the chance is that it will get misplaced.  If they really need it or want something like my social security number, I do not email it or write it down, I tell them verbally in person or over the phone. 
  4. Shred the paper you get from financial institutions.  The best, low cost trick is to shred by hand into two different waste baskets and empty them on different weeks.
  5. Check your credit report three times a year for free.  Each credit reporting agency is required to provide you with a credit report once a year by law for free – you can get it at  I like to spread this out over the year – so for example, request one in January, one in May and one in September.  Check and make sure the debt accounts are correct but also that your previous addresses and employers are correct.
  6. Don’t click or talk to them – go to the original source!  When you get an email or call from a sensitive source like the government or bank that you were not expecting, don’t click on anything or talk to the person on the other end.  Look up the website or phone number of the institution and contact them that way directly.  When you google a company, be careful not to click on the top 2-3 links – those are paid ads that may not be the company you are looking for.  Scroll down a few lines until you find the precise website of the company you are looking for. 
  7. Be careful where you use your debit card.  Many financial advisors suggest you use debit cards so you are not accruing debt on your credit card.  I rarely use my debit card to be honest.  If you can, you can pay off your credit cards each month.  The reason for this is that credit card funds is OPM – other people’s money.  Debit cards are your money – most banks will return the funds to your bank account – BUT – there are a lot more protections on credit cards that if you suspect fraud and you report it in a timely manner, then you will not have to pay those funds.  I would be very careful of using debit cards at places like gas station pumps, other easily accessible payment locations, like vending machines, and stores you do not frequent or when you travel in new, unknown places.  Never use your debit card for online purchases if you can swing it.  Get a low-balance credit card of $500 – $1000 to make online purchases and pay it off at the end of the month. 

Third Level – High  Security Concerns.  In general, Consumer Reports suggests following the low-cost ways above.  But in my case, I know that my social security number was stolen and it will likely be out in the “Dark Web” for the rest of my life and beyond.  If you think that someone has stolen extremely sensitive information beyond credit card numbers or passwords, you may want to take on a monitoring service that sends you monthly updates and immediate alerts if there are any major changes.  But it can cost up to $15 a month.  These services can monitor not only credit cards but emails, bank accounts, social security numbers for your family, home address, driver’s license number, and passport number.  Here are some possible options if you have concerns:

  1. Check out your bank or credit card company’s website first.  My credit union offers free credit monitoring now.
  2. Did your credit or debit card get compromised at one of these security breaches?  If it did, the company should be offering you free monitoring for at least a year if not 2-3 years.  In 2019 alone, Marriott, Capital One, T Mobile, and Dunkin Donuts had breaches! And that is only the big names and less than  5% of what happened.  Here is a list since the 2000s:
  3. All three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, offer monitoring services – this will cost between $10-$15 a month. 
  4. There are services like Lifelock that monitor much more than credit such as your social security number and bank accounts.  These also will cost money on a monthly basis. 

For more information on what you can do when there is a problem or how to protect yourself, here are some more sites to visit:

-Chris Linder

Originally published June 1, 2020.

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.

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Loss of Employment and Health Insurance – What do I do Now?

I once did consulting for a German company and my contact was completely baffled why I insisted on purchasing temporary health evacuation insurance when working in Haiti – it was the sheer terror of knowing a health evac can cost $100,000+ one-way.  Health costs are terrifying for all Americans – we’re all one car crash or cancer diagnosis from financial hardship, even for those of us who have saved for many years and have decent health coverage.   I saw this first-hand when working with community health centers for many years across the US.  We at MaineStream constantly see health related debt in collections on credit reports, and health costs are the #1 reason for bankruptcy in the US.  Right now thousands of Americans and Mainers could potentially lose their health insurance families in the coming months not just for them but their entire family if they are laid-off. 

There is hope – below are some options and resources to contact if your clients risk losing health coverage during this tough time when we all need health insurance most.  Also, the Governor has ordered that MaineCare will cover all COVID-19 testing (if other plans cannot) regardless of status of the person. Right now, the Maine Equal Justice Program is suggesting you check if you are eligible for MaineCare if you have lost your job – the criteria have been relaxed significantly.

  • The Governor and State of Maine just launched (or 800-965-7476) to help Mainers find the best option for them through MaineCare/Medicaid, ACA Health Exchange, and others.
  • US ACA Marketplace Health Insurance Coverage at for those without coverage with their employer.  A loss of unemployment is an eligible event to enroll outside of the normal period.  Anthem Blue, Harvard Pilgrim, and Community Health Options all provide plans under ACA. 
  • COBRA: Laid-off workers can also go to the COBRA Continuation Coverage website to see if they are eligible to continue coverage from their former employer’s plan for up to 9 months but you will have to pay most of the cost yourself, including the employer’s portion. You might be able to negoitate that portion with your severance. Your employer should offer this to you in most involuntary departure cases. 
  • There are organizations locally out there who can help you figure this out:  
    • Penquis has a Healthcare Navigator, Theresa Cucinotti. Visit the Penquis Healthcare Navigator page or call 207-973-3500.
    • Most Maine Community Health Centers (CHCs), like Penobscot Community Health Center (PCHC,) have Health Navigators, particularly to help with ACA coverage. Health centers also provide reduced price care based on an income-based sliding scale if you are uninsured (I.e. you don’t have to go to the emergency room for non-emergency care).  Most hospitals will also provide healthcare navigators if you ask.

-Chris Linder

Originally published May 18, 2020

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.

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Buyer Beware: Consumer-related scams during COVID-19

Beware of emergency-related scams out there – yes, they are popping up everywhere! Never click on links in emails or texts unless you know the person or institution.  If you are unsure about a phone call or text – look up the organization’s main number online and tell them you will call them back.  Beware of organizations reaching out to you on social media platforms too like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – and again beware of links. Look them up online, google “[Company Name] and “fraud” or “scam”.  If it’s too good to be true, be very, very wary.  Never pay someone to help you get Federal funds, or IRS checks, or mortgage help – especially don’t go buy a bunch of gift cards – and don’t share your social security number, account numbers, or things like your mother’s date of birth until you log-on directly to the organization’s website like your bank or call them directly at their main 1-800 customer service line. Unfortunately, there are terrible people in the world – it is less than 1% of us – but with technology now, that small percentage can do a lot of damage.  Be very skeptical – make Pyrrho proud (the father of skepticism). You can call MaineStream to help you figure out if something is real or not. We also have a scams section on our Personal Finances during COVID-19 page reports that the three most common COVID-19 scams are:

1) Testing and treatment scams (answer: go to your doctor, health insurer, or nearest urgent care center instead)

2) FDIC and banking scams (answer: get your bank’s phone number directly and call them directly – do not reply to them via email or click on an email link or chat with them on Facebook)

3) Checks from the government (answer: never share your personal information like social security until you call them back directly – call the government organization who is supposedly issuing the checks directly – call the State of Maine Attorney General’s office, call US FTC, or call us at MaineStream. You will never pay a fee to get government benefits.)

Here are resources and places you can call for help or learn more on scams:

-Chris Linder

Originally published April 20, 2020

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.

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Weathering COVID-19 financially

some tips and tricks and resources out there

Below is some guidance, resources, and tips and tricks on how to weather COVID-19 financially.  It is changing hourly and many organizations, governments, and individuals are jumping in to help – so there is hope! 

One of the more comprehensive sources to explain the Federal economic stimulus support is in this New York Times article (free to access and regularly updated): F.A.Q. on Stimulus Checks, Unemployment and the Coronavirus Bill

We have a lot more info on health insurance, taxes, leave, employment, student loans, etc. on our Personal Finance during COVID-19 website at and Penquis’ website for our COVID-19 response.

  • Debt Payments – preserving cash – list out your biggest fixed-amount bills and call your lenders ASAP (like right now or this weekend).  You may likely get a 30-day to 90-day grace period.  But please note, you will have to pay it all back eventually – and interest charges will still accrue during the grace period.  The more you communicate with lenders quickly and honestly, the more they will want to help you.  They have a lot of discretion right now to help. You can call our housing or personal finance teams for help. 
    • Mortgages – If your loan is under HUD/FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (about 95% of all mortgage loans) – you will likely be eligible for a 3-6 month deferral (and maybe more after the first six months).  Call your lender, ask them if you are under any of those programs and tell them you are undergoing a hardship due to COVID-19 and would like to understand the options for deferring.  Most foreclosures are halted and Maine courts are closed.  If you were already in foreclosure, things may be different – call our housing counseling team for help.  [Please note, MaineStream is none of these, but we will work with current borrowers for deferral hardships.]
    • Student loans – All federal student loans can get a deferral with a no-interest period through September 30, 2020.  For private or state-funded programs, it will depend on each. Call your lender and figure out what your options are.
    • Credit cards – There is no mandate to give a grace period, but most credit card providers are offering grace periods or an ability to lower your minimum monthly payment (e.g. right now the minimum payment is $200 – if you can afford $25 monthly – ask for that).  If you have decent credit, it may make sense to ask for an increase in your line of credit.  (Just in case – please be careful of new debt right now-this is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of debt!)
    • Car Loans – Like credit cards there is no grace period mandate, but many of the lenders for these loans are the same banks offering help for mortgages and credit cards.  Call your lender and ask if there is anyway to have a grace period or reduction in monthly payments. 
  • Rent and Avoiding Evictions– In the beginning of the crisis, the mandate only pertained to HUD-financed properties or FNMA-funded properties – for which there are not many in Maine.  Now in Maine, all evictions are not allowed and the courts are still closed. Either way, call your landlord now if you feel there will be a hardship and work something out.  Many have forgiven a month or two, most offer a deferral of 1-2 months, and some are swapping for barter, e.g. paint a room for them for barter.  If a landlord tries to self-evict or locks you out, call the Penquis/MaineStream Housing Counseling team, Pine Tree Legal and call your local code enforcement team at your city or town – you have some rights and most people will come to you in your defense. 
  • Unemployment Insurance.  If you are not working or working less due to COVID-19 – you are eligible for unemployment insurance now in Maine.  The website and phone lines at Maine DOL (1-800-593-7660) are backed up, but do keep trying. Maine Equal Justice Project (626-7058), Pine Tree Legal, and the local career centers (11 across the state) can help as well. 
  • Saving money/costs ideas.  Bangor Daily News and Hello Homestead have a great series of articles on how to save money using different ingredients for cooking, saving energy, etc. 

-Chris Linder

note: this was originally published on April 6, 2020

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.