As the nation’s leading Credit Bureau, we have two primary goals. On one hand, we want to provide lenders the data necessary to assess the risk that a loan applicant represents. On the other hand, we want to help consumers build credit and improve access to credit.
This bifurcated set of objectives is the inspiration behind our annual State of Credit report. Each year, this report provides a view into how consumers are managing credit, including their debt levels, on-time payments and utilizations rates. Now in its 11th year, our latest report shows promising signs in terms of how consumers are managing their debts against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there is no question the global pandemic has created many financial challenges for consumers, this report shows something I’ve always believed: many American consumers are resilient, they make smart decisions in light of a difficult environment and they adjust their financial habits.
Specific evidence for that assertion can be found as we compare 2019, the year prior to the pandemic and 2020, the year marked by the impacts of the pandemic. Year-over-year, consumers lowered their credit card balances, decreased their utilization rates and reduced delinquency rates on the recurring monthly payments they need to make to service their debt. These factors attributed to an average credit score of 688 — a six-point increase from the same period in 2019.
You can view additional findings from this year’s report here.
The Value Credit Data in America
When determining whether to extend an offer of credit to a consumer, lenders can gain excellent insight into a consumer’s risk profile from the information included in a consumer’s credit profile. It details a consumer’s financial track record and delivers a historical view of how a consumer is managing and repaying debt over time. This information helps lenders determine who can fulfill their financial obligations and ensures consumers continue to have access to credit.
Recently, there are reports of using alternative means to assess consumer creditworthiness such as cash-flow data. While Experian is a recognized leader and advocate for the use of alternative data, the use of cash flow data alone can be risky. For example, consumer’s savings have also increased since the start of the pandemic. If a consumer is responsibly and regularly investing in some form of savings, this would narrow their cash flow, which may be misleading and constrain financial access.
Looking at a consumer’s credit utilization rate, payment histories and credit balances through traditional credit data remains the primary means to effectively assess lending risk for most American consumers.
When necessary, layering traditional credit data with alternative credit data can provide lenders with a more detailed view of a borrower’s stability, ability and willingness to repay. For example, innovations like Experian Boost empower consumers to contribute on time payment histories for additional monthly recurring financial obligations, such as their cable, utilities, mobile phone or Netflix service, directly to their Experian credit report. These payment histories can demonstrate to lenders how reliably consumers are servicing these payments. Incorporating this information has been proven to increase the predictiveness of a consumer’s credit reputation and can complement the data derived from their lending history.
Of course, not every American consumer is in a position to adjust their financial habits and make the commensurate smart decisions. Some have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. The CARES Act stimulus was effective in increasing the number of consumers who could maintain their financial health, but still some need more help as we embark on the road to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. At Experian, we feel that educating consumers about the information included in their credit report and ways they can improve their credit histories will be another factor in getting the economy as a whole humming again and helping those most in need. We pride ourselves to be “The Consumers’ Bureau” and, as such, education will continue to be a primary focus for us.
In an effort to encourage consumers to regularly monitor and understand the information in their credit reports, Experian joined forces with the other U.S. credit reporting agencies to offer free weekly credit reports to all Americans through April 2021 via www.annualcreditreport.com. Experian also offers consumers free access to their credit report and ongoing credit monitoring at Experian.com.
For additional ways to maintain a healthy credit profile, I encourage you to:
- Join Experian’s #creditchat hosted by @Experian on Twitter with financial experts every Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
- Visit the Ask Experian blog for answers to common questions, advice and education about credit.
- Add positive telecom and utility payments to your Experian credit report for an opportunity to improve your credit scores by visiting experian.com/boost
- For additional resources, visit https://www.experian.com/consumereducation or experian.com/coronavirus.