By Eilenn A.J. Connelly, AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The credit scores of millions more Americans are sinking to new lows.
Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5% of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It's unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.
Because consumers relied so heavily on debt to fuel their spending in recent years, their restricted access to credit is one reason for the slow economic recovery.
"I don't get paid for loan applications, I get paid for closings," said Ritch Workman, a Melbourne, Fla., mortgage broker. "I have plenty of business, but I'm struggling to stay open."
FICO's latest analysis is based on consumer credit reports as of April. Its findings represent an increase of about 2.4 million people in the lowest credit score categories in the past two years. Before the Great Recession, scores on FICO's 300-to-850 scale weren't as volatile, said Andrew Jennings, chief research officer for FICO in Minneapolis. Historically, just 15% of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data posted on Myfico.com.
More are likely to join their ranks. It can take several months before payment missteps actually drive down a credit score. The Labor Department says about 26 million people are out of work or underemployed, and millions more face foreclosure, which alone can chop 150 points off an individual's score. Once the damage is done, it could be years before this group can restore their scores, even if they had strong credit histories in the past.
On the positive side, the number of consumers who have a top score of 800 or above has increased in recent years. At least in part, this reflects that more individuals have cut spending and paid down debt in response to the recession. Their ranks now stand at 17.9%, which is notably above the historical average of 13%, though down from 18.7% in April 2008 before the market meltdown.