Rejections rates for consumer loans — credit cards, auto loans and mortgages — are on the rise, according to a key economic survey published Friday.
The percentage of consumers who applied for credit but were rejected increased to 9.9% in October, compared with 8.3% a year earlier, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That was the highest the rate had been since February 2015.
New York Fed economists were honest about the fact that they don't know exactly why that happened, but they think it has more to do with the lending side of the equation than a sudden change in consumer fortunes such as debt burdens.
"The fact that the increase seems to be broad-based [among all credit profiles] suggests that this may be supply driven, reflecting a change in lending behavior," the economists said about the regional Fed bank's latest Survey of Consumer Credit Access.
The uptick comes as banks across the industry make a deeper push into consumer loans, looking for acceptable risks farther down the credit spectrum. Notably, several big banks — including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup — bolstered their consumer loan reserves last quarter.
The increase in rejections was highest among subprime borrowers. Roughly 30% of borrowers with FICO scores below 680 were rejected for a loan, compared with 25.9% a year earlier.
To be sure, the rejection rates for subprime borrowers were lower compared with two years ago. But the year-over-year change is likely due to a push into various types of subprime lending across the industry, said Wilbert van der Klauww, an economist with the New York Fed.
"That is consistent other evidence that we've shown from our consumer credit panel, where we have seen an increase in the issuance of credit cards and auto loans for subprime borrowers," said van der Klauww said during a press briefing Friday.
The Fed survey showed the increase in rejection rates was relatively consistent among consumer groups.
Among the different types of credit, rejections on applications for higher credit card limits spiked, rising to 31.1% in October, from 14.2% a year earlier. The increase was driven by higher rejections from subprime borrowers.
Additionally, rejections for mortgage refinance applications rose to 23.6% from 13.2%.
The Fed survey, conducted in October, also measured consumer expectations for the coming year. Just over a quarter of consumers said they expect to apply for at least one more type of credit.
The survey is based on interviews of approximately 1,200 people.