Fifth Third Bank of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is responding to the region's growing credit crisis by stepping up its outreach to customers struggling to make payments on their mortgages or other debts, such as car loans and credit cards.

Fifth Third is the leading mortgage lender in the 15-county Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region, according to the most recent federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data obtained through the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. The bank had a 9% market share in 2006, according to the data.

Tom Stoll, senior vice president of the local affiliate, said the bank's "You Have Options" campaign - aimed at customers with Fifth Third loans - was launched this spring to help borrowers either behind on their payments or worried about falling behind, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The bank has begun advertising the program in its branches, and some customers whose credit and payment history indicate they're headed for trouble will also get a brochure mailed to them. "Some callers think their only option is to sell their home - but there's really a fair amount of flexibility being offered," he said.

Stoll said some solutions can include modifying monthly payments, forgiving late fees, extending the duration of a loan so that late payments are made at the end of a loan period, changing or fixing interest rates or refinancing into different loan products.

Stoll said it costs Fifth Third money when it has to foreclose or write off a bad debt. So if a loan can be modified or refinanced and the bank will still get paid, the lender will work with customers.

Fifth Third officials say their outreach efforts have been expanded this year as unemployment and rising interest rates have burdened consumers.

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