Six years out from the financial crisis, most Americans are still not borrowing more, despite well-qualified borrowers taking out loans.
Two analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland dug into data taken from the credit report company Equifax and found evidence to "suggest that the consumer credit market is still weak outside select sectors and for borrowers at the riskier end of the credit spectrum." Although the headline numbers show that households finally stopped tightening their belts after the financial crisis and started borrowing more in early 2013, the underlying data indicate that many people with weaker credit still aren't participating.
In a note posted Tuesday, the economists, O. Emre Ergungor and Daniel Kolliner, note that people with credit scores above 720 — about half of all borrowers — have been taking out more home loans. But for prime, subprime and deep subprime borrowers, there has been no increase in mortgage debt.
The result? Since the Federal Reserve sparked an increase in mortgage rates last summer, the number of new mortgages for home purchases has stopped its upward climb. Mortgages are by far the largest category of consumer debt.
Yet many people with poor credit want to take out loans. The Equifax data shows that those with credit ratings below 600 are far more likely to ask for loans — and, it appears, get rejected.
These facts highlight a conundrum facing the U.S.: Slow consumer borrowing and spending appear to be an impediment to faster economic growth, but lenders remain unwilling to extend terms to borrowers without strong credit.
That's important background for the recent decision by the regulator of the bailed-out mortgage businesses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to pivot toward easing credit terms for home loans. Mel Watt, President Obama's new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, determined that the trade-off between expanding credit and consumers taking on more risk was worth it.