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Banks to get hit by consumers unable to pay debts, expert says

Many banks are used to loan defaults by now, at least in the housing sector.

What they face in 2009 is a new wave of defaults, from people who can't make payments on consumer debt, from credit cards to car loans, experts said.

"If we have a soft economy for a period of time, that catches up with every type of lending," said Coastal Carolina University finance professor Robert Burney, who also serves on the board of Carolina Trust Federal Credit Union. "It's across the board. Everyone's finances are going to get a little more stressed."

In addition, banks will have a tough time finding borrowers who qualify for loans because so many people are going through financial difficulties, he said. A lack of credit-worthy borrowers can be problematic, as a bank's bread and butter is usually the difference between what it collects on loans and what it doles out on deposits.

"The environment isn't such that there's a lot of good loans to make," Burney said. "The pool of potential quality borrowers is reduced."

One bank is trying to get its feet on the ground in Myrtle Beach this year. Coastal Carolina National Bank is trying to raise $21 million through a stock offering, which bank officials have extended the deadline for twice. Its target opening is in the second quarter.

Banks probably won't be doing much expanding or adding new branches this year. Mergers and acquisitions could impact the Grand Strand, but for the most part, local institutions are well capitalized and appear able to weather the storm, Burney said.

"I think this time next year, our local banking scene will look pretty similar," he said.

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