Credit card standards continue to loosen

Not all of the major financial institutions nationwide grant credit cards to consumers, but among those that do, the qualifications they require from borrowers for new accounts eased significantly in 2011.

Of the 20 banks surveyed for the latest federal Annual Survey of Credit Underwriting Practices, 35 percent continued to slacken their qualification standards for new credit cards, according to the report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Another 50 percent of those lenders kept their credit card lending more or less the same, and only 15 percent tightened them.

Experts generally noted that these changes came for reasons long observed by outsiders, the report said. Specifically, changes in the nation's economic forecast, the continual strong performances of these loan types, increased competition among card issuers, falling risk and therefore the desire to pursue more, and lender strategies all contributed to the additional pushing of new accounts. These lenders largely eased underwriting standards by changing pricing and fees for accounts, lowering the average credit score needed to qualify, and looking at broader debt-to-income ratios.

Falling risk a big factor
While 85 percent of banks said they saw their credit standards either widen or stay the same, a combined 95 percent said their risk held steady or decreased, the report said. In all, 45 percent of the institutions surveyed said they saw less risk in this type of lending, and another 50 percent saw no change.

Three of the 20 banks (15 percent) said they now had more risk to credit cards over the course of last year than they did in 2010, and 30 percent told the agency they planned to "significantly increase exposure" throughout 2012, the report said. However, a total of 50 percent of the banks raised eyebrows for the OCC, as its examiners felt those institutions had adopted concerning directions with regard to this type of risk.

Consumers who are seeking any kind of credit card or other type of loan should first take the time to check their credit reports. By doing so, they may be able to identify any potentially unfair markings that could be reducing their overall credit standings. Fortunately, working with a credit repair company can help to clear up these troublesome entries and put them back to where they should be financially.