Unemployment and credit risk

April 29, 2010 by Kelly Kent

Since 2007, when the housing and credit crises started to unfold, we’ve seen unemployment rates continue to rise (9.7% in March 2010 *)  with very few indicators that they will return to levels that indicate a healthy economy any time soon. I’ve also found myself reading about the hardship and challenge that people are facing in today’s economy, and the question of creditworthiness keeps coming into my mind, especially as it relates to employment, or the lack thereof, by a consumer.

Specifically, I can’t help but sense that there is a segment of the unemployed that will soon possess a better risk profile than someone who has remained employed throughout this crisis. In times of consistent economic performance, the static state does not create the broad range of unique circumstances that comes when sharp growth or decline occurs. For instance, the occurrence of strategic default is one circumstance where the capacity to pay has not been harmed, but the borrower defaults on the commitment anyway. Strategic defaults are rare in a stable market. In contrast, many unemployed individuals who have encountered unfortunate circumstances and are now out of work may have repayment issues today, but do possess highly desirable character traits (willingness to pay) that enhance their long-term desirability as a borrower.

Although the use of credit score trends, credit risk modeling and credit attributes are essential in assessing the risk within these different borrowers, I think new risk models and lending policies will need to adjust to account for the growing number of individuals who might be exceptions to current policies. Will character start to account for more than a steady job? Perhaps. This change in lending policy, may in turn, allow lenders to uncover new and untapped opportunities for growth in segments they wouldn’t traditionally serve.

*  Source: US Department of Labor. http://www.bls.gov/bls/unemployment.htm