The extent to which the credit malaise in the United States affects other countries in the Americas varies by proximity, immigration, trade agreements and other factors, Maria Olga Rehbein, president of the Latin America and Caribbean division of United States-based credit bureau TransUnion, tells Cards&Payments. For instance, Mexican card issuers began getting nervous last year as they saw their own delinquency rates start to rise along with delinquencies in the United States. "There was a lot of fear they were going to be hit by the U.S. economy," Rehbein says. "The whole of Central America has slowed down." Lenders and lawmakers in many parts of Central and South America are working to establish more-sophisticated credit-scoring systems to keep up with expanded use of credit, Rehbein says. The Costa Rican government allows companies to share only negative credit information, such as missed payments or defaults, not the positive information that can help lenders keep tabs on how many lines of credit a consumer has obtained, Rehbein says. And even countries where lawmakers allow credit bureaus and lenders to share both negative and positive credit information, such as the number of credit lines a borrower is paying on time, many lenders are reluctant to share data they fear could give competitors too much insight into their operations, she says. Chilean lawmakers passed a law some five years ago to limit credit-data sharing to only negative information, Rehbein notes. But Chileans hold some
12 million bank-issued credit cards and several million more issued by retailers, and revolving consumer debt now has reached the level that is making lawmakers there nervous enough to revisit the idea of allowing both positive and negative information. "[Chilean lawmakers] conducted a study with the World Bank and know they could be running some very important macroeconomic risks," Rehbein says. "Because there has been no positive [credit] sharing, they could be having a crisis of overindebtedness."