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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB examines pandemic effect on access to new credit

Federal Issues CFPB Credit Cards Mortgages Auto Finance Covid-19 Consumer Credit Outcomes

Federal Issues

On August 26, the CFPB released findings regarding trends in credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans for consumers through the Covid-19 pandemic. The post—the fifth and final in a series documenting trends in consumer credit outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic—examines how access to new credit and the amount of extended credit for new account holders have been impacted by the pandemic. An August 2020 Bureau report (covered by InfoBytes here and updated here) found that while credit limit increases seemed to have been halted for many consumers, there was not a pronounced reduction in available credit card credit since the start of the pandemic (the 2020 report did not discuss access to new credit trends). According to the Bureau’s most recent report, access to new credit declined for credit cards but increased for mortgages and auto loans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other things, the Bureau noted that early in the pandemic, the success rate of credit card inquiries declined from around 45 percent in January 2020 to just over 30 percent in May 2020—a “drop well beyond what could be expected from seasonal variation.” Additionally, the volume of credit card inquiries also dropped substantially and did not recover until March 2021, with credit card inquiry success rates also similarly declining “across credit score groups as well as across age groups and subgroups of consumers classified by their census tract or county characteristics.” 

Although the report noted that there was “a small and transitory dip” for auto loans in March and April 2020, by February 2021, success rates for auto loan and mortgage inquiries were well above pre-pandemic levels. According to the Bureau, “[t]his result for auto loan and mortgages inquiries contrasts somewhat with responses to the Federal Reserve’s survey of bank loan officers, which indicate that large banks tightened lending standards on auto and mortgage loans during 2020, only loosening standards in 2021.”