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Equifax, Moody's offer rundown of US credit market

Mar 09, 2012 Phil Burgess

The U.S. credit market is poised for a strong rebound in 2012, according to a report released this week by ratings agencies Equifax and Moody's analytics. Specifically, experts foresee a rise in credit activity for consumer finance, credit cards and auto loans, as well as a gradual decline in delinquency rates. Reflecting a gradual recovery in the housing market, household debt continues to dwindle, with total consumer balances down $187.8 billion since early 2009. Credit card companies are broadening their offers while customer solicitations on the rise as well. The Equifax-Moody's report shows a 41 percent increase in credit card inquiries since the recession low. "After spending recent years in the financial doldrums, U.S. consumers are poised to make a comeback in 2012," said Equifax chief economist Amy Crews Cutts. "The most promise we have seen has primarily been within the consumer spending and auto financing sector, while the housing market continues to see incremental progress towards gaining traction in the coming months." Higher demand for new autos is driving lenders to expand their credit decisions. Auto loan inquiries are up 27 percent this year, as originations continue to follow a nationwide increase. Meanwhile, outstanding balances of home mortgages have fallen by $1 trillion - 10.4 percent - since 2008. "Mortgage rates are at all-time lows, and refinance shares are high but mortgage originations are not responding to low rates," the report adds. "Tighter lending guidelines are reflected in loans made to the prime risk segment, which now comprise more than 80 percent of all new mortgage originations." Student lending is one of the few dangerous sectors of the credit market, as activity is rising at levels many deem as unsustainable. The New York Federal Reserve reported this week that the total U.S. student loan balance now stands at $870 billion - more than credit card or auto debts. As student loan debt has risen alongside declines in the job market, delinquency rates have been steadily rising. This has resulted in a large number of accounts that are two or more payments past due or that are in the debt collection process. However, with gradual gains in the job market, this trend may reverse and lead to lower delinquency rates.