Collection practices are coming under intensifying scrutiny from prosecutors, but recoveries against previously charged-off credit card accounts continue to flood in.
The 18 issuers considered here salvaged $1.6 billion of debt in the second quarter that had previously been declared uncollectible. The take comes after more than two years of declining gross chargeoffs, which are the source of the pool of claims from which recoveries can be made. (Select lenders from the dropdown in the graphic below to see data for individual companies, or select “Aggregate” to see data for the group together. Text continues after the graphic.)
Overall recoveries have retreated from a peak of $1.8 billion in the first quarter of last year, but continue at levels that appear to exceed those that prevailed before the recession.
Recoveries at an annual rate were equal to 1.1% of receivables in the second quarter, up from 1% in the first quarter and above the range of 0.8% to 0.9% in 2006 and 2007. (The data for periods before the first quarter of 2010 excludes securitized loans, which were consolidated onto financial statements under new accounting rules.)
At Discover, second-quarter recoveries totaled $148 billion, nearly a peak for the lender during the past two years. At that pace, recoveries offset 32% of gross chargeoffs in the period, up from 22% in the second quarter of 2011 and 11% the second quarter of 2010. Its net chargeoff rate, which reflects gross chargeoffs less recoveries, dropped a few basis points from the first quarter to 2.7% in the second quarter, a mark that comes close to rivaling credit quality standard-bearer American Express.
Recoveries have also been climbing or holding at issuers like Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp, and wiping out increasing proportions of gross chargeoffs.
At Capital One, recovery rates were down in the first half from levels posted in 2011, though recoveries continued to cancel out about a third of gross chargeoffs. Early this year, Richard Fairbank, the company’s chief executive, said the trend was a reflection of “the math of a shrinking inventory of fresh chargeoffs against which to recover.”
At JPMorgan Chase, recoveries of $227 billion in the second quarter were 40% below a peak of $390 billion in the first quarter last year. Recovery trends, which include sales of claims to collection agencies in addition to court judgments won directly by lenders, can be erratic. (American Banker reported this month that a group of state attorneys general were investigating JPMorgan and other lenders over the validity of account records sold to third-party collectors. American Banker reported in January that JPMorgan had stopped filing litigation on its own behalf after a whistle-blower lawsuit.)
The reservoir of writeoffs that built up during the downturn was far larger than any that preceded it, and even a gradual economic recovery makes it easier to make good on those claims. But at some point the current trickle of inflows of bad debt should drive recovery rates down.