Spike in delinquency rate mars outlook for personal loans

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U.S. consumers are falling further behind on loans commonly used to consolidate debt, the latest sign that monthly payment burdens have become unsustainable for more households.

In the third quarter of 2017, 1.9% of all bank-issued personal loans were at least 30 days delinquent, according to data released Tuesday by the American Bankers Association. That was a notable jump from the second quarter, when the delinquency rate was 1.52%.

It was also the highest delinquency rate for personal loans since the second quarter of 2013, according to the banking trade group.

Personal loans typically range in size from around $3,000 to $30,000; they are often used by consumers to consolidate existing credit card debt at a lower interest rate. Many of the loans feature fixed rates, which provide some protection to borrowers at a time when interest rates are marching upward.

Still, there is rising concern in the industry about the ability of customers to manage their personal loans.

In October, Discover Financial Services in Riverwoods, Ill., said that it was tightening certain underwriting standards for prospective borrowers whose personal loan applications were not solicited. The company, which is also one of the nation’s largest credit card issuers, has a $7.4 billion personal loan portfolio.

At the end of the third quarter, 1.27% of Discover’s personal loans were at least 30 days past due, up from 0.98% in the same period a year earlier.

Loan performance has also been weakening at online lenders that specialize in personal loans, such as LendingClub and Prosper Marketplace. LendingClub CEO Scott Sanborn said in December that his company has tightened the credit criteria for its personal loans.

Late-payment rates in other consumer loan categories experienced less movement in the third quarter, according to the ABA. While more consumers fell behind on their auto loans, payment rates on credit cards improved.

“Consumers continue to take a disciplined approach to managing their credit cards,” James Chessen, the trade group’s chief economist, said in a press release, “which has kept delinquencies in this category near historical lows for more than five years.”

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