Credit Card Crunch?

Frankly, I am tired of this topic but every time I try to check the data – as best as I can – it doesn’t seem to support the rhetoric we are hearing from people at the top [despite real problems blah, blah, blah].  Here’s Paulson today:

At least some of the remainder [of the bailout money], Paulson said, should be used to
reinvigorate the market for credit cards, student and auto loans —
which combined account for some 40 percent of consumer credit.

"This market, which is vital for lending and growth, has for all practical purposes ground to a halt," Paulson said. (emphasis added)

I’ll focus on credit cards.  It is true that credit card offers, i.e. junk mail, is down:

…one billion fewer offers mailed during the course of the year.
Households with incomes under $50,000 will receive about 700,000 fewer
offers in 2008 compared to 2007. These households account for the
majority of the cutback and clearly indicate a major change in strategy
by card issuers.

"The souring economy and industry consolidation have driven volumes
down to levels not seen since 2003 [Crisis! AT]" said Andrew Davidson, Vice
President of Competitive Tracking Services for Synovate’s Financial
Services Group. "Card issuers are taking a more cautious approach, with
lower income and high risk households receiving fewer offers or no
offers at all."

But even so:

Despite the decline in offers for new cards, US consumers still
have access to an increasing amount of credit. Household credit lines
across all cards edged up to an average of $27,626 per household (YTD
3Q 2008) from $26,902 in 2007 despite evidence that issuers are cutting
credit lines on certain customers.

…"Much has been reported about issuers reducing credit lines for
certain customers but this is not the case for the majority of people.
Across the industry as a whole, we continue to see credit access and
usage at record high levels" said Davidson.

By the way, after listening to Tyler and me debate this topic Bob Murphy and Megan McArdle decided to run some tests.  So if you prefer your data by anecdote you can read Bob’s results here and Megan’s here.  I am partial to Megan’s hypothesis #5.


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