Each week, we receive dozens of questions about applying for loans and credit card. The most common question involves why a member was declined even though their credit score appeared high enough for approval based on the credit scores of other members who were approved recently. With so much confusion, we thought it would be helpful to dig into the data and answer the question in more detail.
The first thing consumers should understand is that the underwriting process, the rules that determine whether a consumer gets approved or declined for a credit card, is the secret sauce of credit card companies that determines the profitability of each cardholder, the credit card portfolio, and in many cases the entire business. The underwriting process is responsible for the amount of risk credit card companies take on and how well they can predict the performance of consumers they approve to become cardholders. A difference of a 5% customer charge-off rate to a 10% customer charge off rate in a credit card portfolio can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the credit card issuers. As such, you can imagine lots of money is spent refining the logic of the underwriting process, testing new logic, and protecting that logic from competitors.
With so much to gain and so much to lose for credit card companies, it's easy to understand that a credit score alone is not sufficient to determine approvals or declines for credit cards. So, what other factors are used to determine which consumers will be approved and which will be declined? To answer that question, we spoke to an anonymous credit card statistician who has built these formulas for the past 15 years. He shared there are 6 other leading factors, in addition to credit score, that will determine a consumer's likelihood to be approved for a credit card.
- Credit Card Utilization. Just like with your credit score, the amount of available credit you use can have an impact on your credit card approval. Simply put, if your existing credit cards are maxed out, you may be more risky than someone who has the same exact credit score who is not maxed out.
- Recent Hard Inquiries. In many respects, you can think of recent inquiries as a sign of desperation which we can all agree is probably a bad risk for any lender to take on. If you have several recent inquiries, it suggests that you either didn't get the credit you requested (denied, a negative factor) or you did get the credit and it wasn't enough to meet your needs (another negative factor).
- Age of Oldest Trade. The ability to maintain accounts in good standing speaks volumes about the borrower. Lenders like to see a long history of open accounts, which in many cases means more than 2 or 3 years. While you can argue 2-3 years is a strong indicator of creditworthiness, it is still a short time frame from a lender's point of view. In those 2 or 3 years, you probably haven't been laid off, gone through a recession, or experienced many major life events. On the other hand, if you have 10 years of credit history and maintained your accounts, it says a lot about your level of responsibility and financial management. On a side note, if a consumer has few accounts or a very short length of credit history, it is often called a "thin file."
- Number of 30-Day Delinquencies. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. That, in many ways, is how lenders feel about delinquencies. If you have a habit of paying late regardless of your score, be prepared to suffer the consequences when it comes to credit approval. Delinquencies, even minor ones, are a red flag for lenders. That is why you should ALWAYS pay bills on time.
- Presence of a Mortgage. Owning a home can actually help you when it comes to underwriting. Mortgages denote stability and suggest that your credit is strong enough to support a high dollar loan. This metric is often a tie-breaker type criterion, so don't get a mortgage just to improve your underwriting probability.
- Presence of an Installment Loan. Just like a mortgage, installment loans demonstrate the breadth of experience you have with accessing and managing credit. Often, experience with more than just credit cards is seen as beneficial in the eyes of a lender. Installment loans show a level of planning not displayed in credit cards since installment loans have a fixed monthly payment which often require more discipline and budgeting, both of which are often a plus.
This list isn't intended to be inclusive of all the decisioning criteria as the process and models can be quite complicated. Instead, we hope the list sheds some light on the other components that go into approving consumers' loans and/or credit card applications.
When you see the Credit Karma credit card approval score data, also consider how lenders will view you across these metrics as well before you apply. If you barely make the average credit score for approvals, consider applying for a card with a lower credit score requirement. We hope this article helps shed more light on the credit approval engine.
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