On June 7, the CFPB published analysis of how consumers transition out of credit invisibility. “Credit invisibility” refers to an individual who lacks a credit record at any of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. The report, entitled CFPB Data Point: Becoming Credit Visible, highlights the results of its latest study of the credit reporting industry, finding that consumers in low-income areas are more likely to gain credit visibility in negative ways such as through an account in collection or some form of public record. In a previous study, the CFPB estimated approximately 26 million Americans were credit invisible with an additional 19 million consumers having “unscorable” credit files—i.e. files that contain insufficient or too brief credit history. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Without such a record, lenders find it more difficult to assess a consumer’s creditworthiness, resulting in credit invisible individuals having a harder time accessing credit.

The report notes that credit invisibility can present a “Catch-22” scenario, whereby a consumer needs credit history to get access to credit but cannot establish a credit history without first being extended credit. However, the report concludes that because 91 percent of consumers acquire a credit record before turning 30, it is possible to avoid a “Catch-22” situation.

The Bureau highlighted the following key findings:

  • Most consumers – almost 80 percent – become credit visible before age 25, but Consumers in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are likely to be older when they establish a credit history.
  • Members of all age groups and income levels most commonly use credit cards to establish credit history, with student loans ranking second.
  • Approximately 1-in-4 consumers first establish credit history through an account either held by another responsible party—i.e. becoming an “authorized user”—or with a co-borrower. This trend is more common among higher-income groups.
  • Consumers in lower-income neighborhoods, however, are more likely to establish a credit history through “non-loan items,” which usually convey negative information (e.g., third-party collections, delinquent utility bills, child support payments, etc.).
  • In recent years, more consumers create a credit history using a credit card, except within the under 25 age group. The report attributed the trend in the under 25 age group to a number of factors including increased student loans and the restrictions of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which made credit cards less available to young consumers.