Neediest credit card users are seeing their limits fall the most

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Subprime borrowers, who rely more on credit cards than any other group, are seeing their limits cut the most as banks reduce exposure during the coronavirus pandemic.

The risk-management strategy shows a squeeze is coming for households with the most precarious finances as the U.S. government pares assistance for people who have lost their jobs amid the Covid-19 crisis. Not only are many losing income, they’re also losing access to credit.

Banks cut overall borrowing limits for subprime borrowers by about 19% during the second quarter, according to data provided to Bloomberg by credit-reporting firm TransUnion. That compares with an average reduction of just 1.2% across all card accounts during the same period.

Subprime borrowers leaned heavily on their cards to make ends meet even before the pandemic, which has sent unemployment soaring. The group’s so-called utilization rate -- a measure of outstanding balances compared with available credit -- is 16 times higher than for super-prime customers, the least-risky class of card customers.

Card limits for super-prime borrowers rose 3% in the quarter, TransUnion’s figures show. The trends don’t reflect reductions put in place by banks in recent weeks, including actions by Capital One Financial Corp. The company is cutting borrowing limits on credit cards, a move that set off a swift outcry on social media.

For store credit cards, a similar picture emerged, TransUnion said: Overall limits on subprime accounts dropped 24%, while lines for super-prime customers remained roughly the same in the second quarter.

Bloomberg News
Risk management