While bankers may be wringing their hands about high delinquency and chargeoff rates, Creditrust Corp. is celebrating its good fortune.
Creditrust's success depends on bank card issuers' not being paid what they are owed. The Baltimore company buys past-due accounts and tries to convince the borrowers to pay back at least a portion of their debt.
This year has been very good for Creditrust, in part because record-high chargeoff rates have increased the receivables available for purchase.
Moreover, the company's biggest competitor, Commercial Financial Services Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., was charged this month with selling worthless receivables at inflated prices. Former chief executive officer William Bartmann was said to have falsified computer records to show the company had more performing loans than it did.
"We can really step in and make the most of the opportunity," said Creditrust chairman and CEO Joseph K. Rensin.
With the chief competitor facing problems, prices for the portfolios Creditrust buys have declined 30%, said Mr. Rensin, to about 8 cents per dollar of receivables.
Despite the good news, Mr. Rensin said, signs warn of greater difficulty in collecting money from delinquent cardholders-and a rising number of such debtors.
At least 20% of Creditrust's 1.5 million credit card accounts are less profitable than two years ago as the cardholders find it increasingly difficult to pay.
"When it hits 20% of our portfolio, it represents a national problem," said Mr. Rensin.
Cardholders who had been paying Creditrust $200 a month are now down to about $75. Mr. Rensin attributed the decline to lost jobs or reduced working hours among mostly factory and service workers.
For example, when General Motors Corp. workers went on strike last summer, Creditrust's collections declined in areas near GM plants.
But Mr. Rensin is generally very optimistic about his seven year-old company's prospects.
He said the market for nonperforming receivables grew to $11.5 billion this year, from $6.1 billion last year. The number of banks selling such accounts rose to 51, from 20. Creditrust has bought more than $2 billion this year, double its 1997 total.
Mr. Rensin said several factors are increasing the supply of charged-off portfolios, including a greater tendency of lenders to sell the accounts- typically 180 days past due-rather than send them to debt collectors.
In 1991, when Creditrust was launched, "our biggest obstacle was convincing banks that what we were doing was even legal," Mr. Rensin said.
This year Creditrust went public, giving it more capital with which to buy receivables. It also began offering credit cards to some customers as an incentive for them to pay off old debt.
Mr. Rensin contended that bankers should view his company's successes as "a positive" for them.
"A certain amount of their accounts are going to go bad anyway," he said. "We simply add yield to their portfolios" by taking the bad debt off their books.