Tag Archives: FICO Score

Will “Inflated” FICO Scores Be The Catalyst For The Next Meltdown

Consumer credit scores have been artificially inflated during the past decade and are covering up a very real danger lurking behind hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. And when Goldman Sachs is the one ringing the alarm bell, you know the issue may actually be serious.

Joined by Moody’s Analytics and supported by “research” from the Federal Reserve, the steady rise of credit scores during our last decade of “economic expansion” has led to a dangerous concept called “grade inflation”, according to Bloomberg

Grade inflation is the idea that debtors are actually riskier than their scores indicate, due to metrics not accounting for the “robust” economy, which may negatively affect the perception of borrowers’ ability to pay back bills on time. This means that when a recession finally happens, there could be a larger than expected fallout for both lenders and investors. 

There are around 15 million more consumers with credit scores above 740 today than there were in 2006, and about 15 million fewer consumers with scores below 660, according to Moody’s.

On the surface, this disappearance of subprime borrowers is good news. But is there more than meets the eye to the American consumer’s FICO score renaissance?

Cris deRitis, deputy chief economist at Moody’s Analytics said: “Borrowers with low credit scores in 2019 pose a much higher relative risk. Because loss rates today are low and competition for high-score borrowers is fierce, lenders may be tempted to lower their credit standards without appreciating that the 660 credit-score borrower today may be relatively worse than a 660-score borrower in 2009.”

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The problem is most acute for smaller firms that tend to lend more to people with poor credit histories. Many of these firms rely on FICO scores and are unable to account for other metrics, like debt-to-income levels and macroeconomic data. Among the most exposed outstanding debts are car loans, consumer retail credit and personal loans that are doled out online. These types of debt total about $400 billion – and about $100 billion of that sum has been bundled into securities that have been sold to ravenous yield chasers “investors”. 

Meanwhile, cracks are already starting to show on the surface: there has been a rising number of missed payments by borrowers with the highest risk, despite the past decade of “growth”. And now that the economy is starting to show weakness, these delinquencies could accelerate and lead to larger than expected losses. 

Goldman Sachs analyst Marty Young said in an interview: “Every credit model that just relies on credit score now – and there’s a lot of them – is possibly understating the risk. There are a whole bunch of other variables, including the business cycle, that need to be taken into account.”

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FICO credit scores are used by more than 90% of U.S. lenders to determine whether a borrower is an acceptable risk. Most scores range from 300 to 850, with a higher score purporting to show that someone is more likely to pay back their debts. Some big banks and lenders have recognized the problem and have included other factors in their underwriting decisions. 

“Borrowers’ scores may have migrated up, but inherently their individual risk, and their attitude towards credit and ability to pay their bills, has stayed the same. You might have thought 700 was a good score, but now it’s just average,” deRitis continued.

Ethan Dornhelm, vice president of scores and predictive analytics at FICO magically doesn’t seem to notice score inflation and blames the issue on underwriters: “The relationship between FICO score and delinquency levels can and does shift over time. We recognize there’s a lot more context you can obtain beyond a consumer’s credit file. We do not think that score inflation is the issue, but the risk layering on underwriting factors outside of credit scores, such as DTI, loan terms, and even trends in macroeconomic cycles, for example.”

Goldman’s Young attributes the rise in missed auto loan payments to the change in scores. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said the number of auto loans at least 90 days late topped 7 million at the end of last year.

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Michelle Russell-Dowe, who invests in consumer asset-backed securities at Schroder Investment Management, said: “Some deep-subprime auto lenders may be deeply reliant on credit scores, although there’s a pretty wide range within the auto industry of how lenders use scores and other metrics. For marketplace lending, regardless of the statistics you collect on borrowers, there is something adversely selective about somebody looking for loans online.”

Marketplace and peer to peer lending has also been showing signs of stress. Missed payments and writedowns increased last year, according to NY data and analytic firm PeerIQ. “We don’t see the purported improvement in underwriting just yet,” PeerIQ wrote in a recent report.

And the pressure isn’t just showing up in auto loans and marketplace lending. Private label credit cards, those issued by stores, instead of big banks, saw the highest number of missed payments in seven years last year.

“As an investor it’s incumbent on you to do that deep credit work, which means you have to know as much as possible about how things should pay off or default. If you don’t think you’re being paid for the risk, you have no business investing in it,” Russell-Dowe concluded, stating what should be – but isn’t – the obvious.

Source: ZeroHedge

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As of Sep 21, “Credit Freezes” & “Unfreezes” Will Be Free for All Americans

After the uproar about the Equifax hack, Congress did do something. And credit freezes are now a lot easier to place and lift.

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Starting September 21, 2018, placing or lifting a “credit freeze” – aka “security freeze” – will be free for all Americans in all states. In response to the Equifax-hack uproar and the grassroots movement it triggered, after the personal data of nearly half of all adult Americans had been stolen, Congress passed a bill in May that contained a provision about credit freezes.

It requires that all three major consumer credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – make credit freezes and unfreezes available for free in all states. Under most existing state laws, credit bureaus were able to charge a fee for placing and lifting a credit freeze. This could add up: for an effective credit freeze, you need to freeze your accounts at all three major credit bureaus, and pay each of them – and then pay each of them again to unfreeze those accounts if you want to apply for a credit card or loan.

The new law also requires credit bureaus to fulfill consumer requests for a credit freeze within one business day if made online or by phone, and within three business days if made by snail-mail.

Why is this important?

Credit bureaus collect personal and financial data on just about all adult Americans, whether they know it or not. These dossiers are extensive. They include the Social Security number, date of birth, address history, credit-card history, loan history, bank relationships, payments history, etc.

These dossiers are used to build a “credit report.” This is an extensive file (not just a credit score) that shows in detail your entire credit history – such as mortgages, other loans, credit cards, late payments, etc. These reports are sold – you’re the product – to third parties, such as lenders, credit-card promoters, and others.

Credit bureaus hate credit freezes because they cut into their revenues. But years ago, state laws forced them to make credit freezes available, though credit bureaus could make the process of freezing and unfreezing the account cumbersome, time-consuming, and costly. Now, under the new federal law, it’s easier and free.

When you put a credit freeze on your account with the three credit bureaus, they can no longer release this report to third parties, and it becomes impossible to open a credit-card account or bank account in your name – impossible for you as well as identity thieves.

After you place credit freezes on your accounts and then want to open a new loan account or open an account with the Social Security administration (yes!), you need to first lift the credit freezes.

All this has now become a lot easier, faster, and as of September 21, free.

Identity theft is hitting Equifax-hack victims

During the Equifax hack that was first disclosed a year ago, the personal data, including birth dates and Social Security numbers, of over 148 million Americans (according to the latest Equifax estimates) were stolen. These were the crown jewels for identity thieves.

Since then, 21% of the victims have seen “unusual” activity on their accounts, according to a survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center. Of these victims:

  • 24% had a new credit-card account opened in their name
  • 34% experienced changes to an existing credit card
  • 23% had other accounts opened in their name, including loans, debit cards, bank accounts, and cable, internet, or utility accounts.
  • 10% had some sort of medical identity issue, including receiving a medical bill or collection notice for services they never received, learning that medical records were compromised, or discovering another person’s information on their medical records.
  • 4% had either state or federal taxes filed fraudulently in their name to collect a refund.
  • Other issues included email flagged as being on the dark web.

A credit freeze at the three major credit bureaus cannot prevent all forms of identity theft and fraud, but it’s the single biggest and most effective defense mechanism consumers in the US can deploy.

Since I first started reporting on the Equifax hack last September, I included the links to the credit-freeze pages at the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus have changed those links several times, perhaps to make it more confusing. Here are the updated and functional new links to the pages of the three major credit bureaus where you can request or lift a credit freeze (aka security freeze):

Wolf Richter initiated a security freeze with the major credit bureaus in 2010 after the University of Texas at Austin, where he’d gotten his MBA years earlier, notified him that all his data, including Social Security number, had been stolen. It was the Wild West of credit freezes. It was cumbersome, took weeks, and had to be done by a combination of fax, mail, and phone that involved a lot of road blocks they put in his way. But it was a great decision.

As a positive side-effect, it stopped most of the “pre-approved” cash-advance and credit-card promos that showed up in the mail – an identity theft risk if they fall into the wrong hands – since credit bureaus could no longer sell my data to promoters.

Making credit freezes & unfreezes available to all Americans for free in a quick and convenient manner is one of the best little things Congress has done for US consumers, and was long overdue. 

Source: by Wolf Richter | Wolf Street

Millions Of Americans About To Get Artificial Boost To Their FICO Scores

Back in August 2014, we reported that in what appeared a suspicious attempt to boost the pool of eligible, credit-worthy mortgage recipients, Fair Isaac, the company behind the crucial FICO score that determines every consumer’s credit rating, “will stop including in its FICO credit-score calculations any record of a consumer failing to pay a bill if the bill has been paid or settled with a collection agency. The San Jose, Calif., company also will give less weight to unpaid medical bills that are with a collection agency.” In doing so, the company would “make it easier for tens of millions of Americans to get loans.” Stated simply, the definition of the all important FICO score, the most important number at the base of every mortgage application, was set for an “adjustment” which would push it higher for millions of Americans.

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As the WSJ said at the time, the changes are expected to boost consumer lending, especially among borrowers shut out of the market or charged high interest rates because of their low scores. “It expands banks’ ability to make loans for people who might not have qualified and to offer a lower price [for others],” said Nessa Feddis, senior vice president of consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association, a trade group.” Perhaps the thinking went that if you a borrower has defaulted once, they had learned your lesson and will never do it again. Unfortunately, empirical studies have shown that that is not the case.

Now, nearly three years later, in the latest push to artificially boost FICO scores, the WSJ reports that “many tax liens and civil judgments soon will be removed from people’s credit reports, the latest in a series of moves to omit negative information from these financial scorecards. The development could help boost credit scores for millions of consumers, but could pose risks for lenders” as FICO scores remain the only widely accepted method of quantifying any individual American’s credit risk, and determine how much consumers can borrow for a new house or car as well as determine their credit-card spending limit

The transformation is already in proces as the three major credit-reporting firms, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, recently decided to remove tax-lien and civil-judgment data starting around July 1, according to the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group that represents them. The firms will remove the adverse data if they don’t include a complete list of a person’s name, address, as well as a social security number or date of birth, and since most liens and judgments don’t include all three or four, the effect will be like wiping the slate clean for millons of Americans. This change will apply to new tax lien and civil-judgment data that are added to credit reports as well as existing data on the reports.

Civil judgments include cases in which collection firms take borrowers to court over an unpaid debt. Ankush Tewari, senior director of credit-risk assessment at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, says that nearly all judgments will be removed and about half of tax liens will be removed from credit reports as a result of the changed approach. He says LexisNexis will continue to offer the data directly to lenders.

In addition, if public court records aren’t checked for updates on lien and judgment information at least every 90 days, they will have to be removed from credit reports.

The outcome of this change is clear: it “will make many people who have these types of credit-report blemishes look more creditworthy.

The WSJ notes that the unusual move by the influential firms comes partially in response to regulatory concerns. The three reporting bureaus rarely tinker with the information that goes on credit reports and that lenders consult to gauge consumers’ ability and willingness to pay back debts.

The regulatory push to boost America’s creditworthiness started at the top, under the guise of improving data tracking and collection:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this month released a report citing problems it found while examining credit bureaus and changes it is requiring. Issues the agency cited included improving standards for public-records data by using better identity-matching criteria and updating records more frequently.

Inaccurate information on credit reports, especially if it is negative information, can derail consumers from being able to gain access to credit and even lead to other setbacks like not being able to rent an apartment or get a job.

One in five consumers has an error in at least one of their three major credit reports, according to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission study mandated by Congress. The three credit bureaus received around eight million requests disputing information on credit reports in 2011, according to the CFPB.

It won’t be the first time such an exercise is conducted: in 2015, as part of a settlement with the NY AG, credit-reporting firms were already prompted to remove several negative data sets from reports. These included non-loan related items that were sent to collections firms, such as gym memberships, library fines and traffic tickets. The firms also will have to remove medical-debt collections that have been paid by a patient’s insurance company from credit reports by 2018.

What happens next?

Such changes might help borrowers and could spur additional lending, possibly boosting economic activity. But it could potentially increase risks for lenders who might not be able to accurately assess borrowers’ default risk.

Consumers with liens or judgments are twice as likely to default on loan payments, according to LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a unit of RELX Group that supplies public-record information to the big three credit bureaus and lenders.

For lenders and credit card companies it means one thing: chaos, and the potential of substantial future charge offs: “It’s going to make someone who has poor credit look better than they should,” said John Ulzheimer, a credit specialist and former manager at Experian and credit-score creator FICO.

“Just because the lien or judgment information has been removed and someone’s score has improved doesn’t mean they’ll magically become a better credit risk.”

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So how many US consumers will be impacted by this change? The answer: up to 12 million.

As the WSJ points out “removing this information from credit reports also will lead to changes in people’s credit scores. Roughly 12 million U.S. consumers, or about 6% of the total U.S. population that has FICO credit scores, will see increases in those scores as a result of this change, according to the company that created the FICO system, which is used by lenders in most U.S. consumer underwriting decisions.”

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While for many of these consumers, the score increase will be relatively modest, as FICO projects that just under 11 million people will experience a score improvement of less than 20 points, that should be more than sufficient to go out and buy that brand new $60,000 BMW with an 80-month, $0 down, 0% interest rate loan.

Sarcasm aside, ultimately lenders will still be able to check public records on their own to find this information, and since FICO scores will now be “adjusted” just like GAAP, the likely outcome will be the transition of credit vetting in house, as Fair Isaac loses credibility within the loan system, potentially leading to even more draconian credit terms, even if it comes at substantial expense to US-based lenders.

Source: ZeroHedge