Fact Checked

Federal Reserve data shows banks tightening credit card lending standards

Woman in a cafe with a laptopImage: Woman in a cafe with a laptop
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

During the third quarter, banks said they got stricter about who they’d approve for credit cards and some types of loans, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of senior loan officers.

There are three key reasons why lenders said that they were less likely to approve applications.

  • Worries about the economy
  • Reduced tolerance for risk
  • Growing concern about new borrowers’ ability to repay loans

Lenders were more likely to reject borrowers with FICO scores of 620 or lower than they were at the start of 2019. More surprising: Some loan officers were even growing more reluctant to approve credit card applications for folks with FICO scores of 680, which is considered “good” in a number of scoring models.

Want to know more?

What’s going on with bank lending standards?

This latest survey shows that banks may be more concerned now than they were in the recent past about the overall state of the U.S. economy and how much debt consumers are accumulating.

Lenders’ concern reflects the mixed economic outlook that’s emerged in 2019. On the one hand, notes from the Fed’s meeting in September cite a strong job market and a rise in economic activity. On the other hand, the Fed cut rates for a third time this year after that meeting in part because of uncertainty over global economic developments, such as trade disputes.

Even amid economic uncertainty, Americans continue to borrow. Credit card balances grew by $13 billion and auto loan debt grew by $18 billion in the third quarter of 2019, according to the latest New York Federal Reserve Household Debt and Credit Survey. What’s more, New York Fed data showed an increase in delinquency rates compared with the second quarter.

If lenders see warning signs about the overall economy or in the amount of debt consumers hold, it stands to reason that they’d be less likely to approve applications they might see as riskier — particularly those of “subprime” borrowers, which the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines at those with credit scores between 580 and 619.

What can you do?

If news that it could be getting harder to get approved for a credit card or loan worries you, there are a couple of things you can do.

  • Understand your credit scores. Learning what factors impact your credit scores can help you address your habits and work on building your credit.
  • Keep a budget. Understanding your income and debt by creating a budget may help you figure out how to reach your financial goals.

About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer and editor and holds a bachelor’s… Read more.