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How Credit Scores Actually Fared in the Recession

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Despite large number of financial difficulties suffered by millions of Americans, new data suggest that consumers’ credit ratings haven’t taken nearly as large a hit as many might have guessed in the past.

The latest data from credit scoring bureau FICO shows that the average American with a credit score in their name had a rating of 690 in April, according to a report from Smart Money. And while that may sound like a strong improvement after the slew of Americans defaulting on various lines of credit, having their homes fall into foreclosure and filing for bankruptcy, that simply isn’t the case.

Prior to the start of the recession, the average borrower’s credit rating was 689, just one point lower than today, the report said. And during the recession, that number only dipped to a nadir of 686. That low point was observed in 2009, and average ratings began improving soon after, rising steadily in every year since.

Some experts say this trend is troubling for one of two reasons. Either FICO ratings are no longer accurate predictors of how consumers are able to deal with credit because of the way borrowing habits changed during and following the recession or, more troubling, they can no longer be used to guess how overall credit markets might perform in the future.

For its part, the credit scoring company believes that there is a simple explanation for this lack of movement despite significant economic struggles suffered by millions of people nationwide, the report said. Put simply, there are about 200 million people nationwide who have a credit score, and therefore any fluctuations, be they improvements or declines, would have to be experienced on a much larger scale to make the average rating move significantly.

Of course, in the past several months, credit card lenders have been considerably expanding the issuing of new accounts to borrowers with subprime ratings. Instances of delinquency and default on these accounts are at or near all-time lows for all major lenders and as such, many have an appetite to broaden lending efforts overall. However, mortgage lenders have simultaneously kept lending restrictions tighter than historical averages, and many experts say this might be an impediment to the overall recovery of the housing market.

Image: andymangold, via Flickr

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