Credit Card Issuers are Growing Outstandings…and Charge Offs

Most of the leading U.S. credit card issuers—portfolios of more than $500 million— reported y/y growth in their average credit card outstandings in the first quarter of 2017.

However, all of these issuers are also experiencing significant growth in credit card net charge-offs (gross charge-offs minus recoveries).  Of the 19 issuers:

  • 10 reported y/y charge-off increases of more than 20%.
  • For 17, charge-off rises outpaced outstandings growth.

These recent significant increases in charge offs follow an extended period of declining charge-off rates in the aftermath of the 2008-9 Financial Crisis.  During the 2010-2015 period, issuers tightened up their credit card underwriting considerably, and consumers moved away from racking up high levels of credit card debt.  According to the FDIC, the credit card net charge-off rate fell from a recessionary high of more than 13% in 1Q10 to less than 3% in 3Q15.  Since then, the rate rose slightly—to 3.16% in 4Q16—but still well below levels seen prior to the Financial Crisis.  And five of the issuers in the chart above (Chase, Bank of America, Discover, BB&T and SunTrust) still had net charge-off rates of less than 3% in 1Q17.

Even though current charge-off rates are low by historic averages, issuers must be careful not to allow charge-off momentum to grow to a problematic level.  One area of potential concern: many leading credit card issuers are reporting strongest outstandings growth for their low FICO Score segments, which tend to have significantly higher credit risk profiles.

Of course, when focusing on growing credit card loans, issuers accept that charge offs will rise.  However, they can help to ensure that these charge offs remain at a manageable level by:

  • Maintaining underwriting discipline
  • Avoiding a race to the bottom in credit card pricing; it’s notable that, according to, the average credit card APR reached a record high of 15.80%)
  • Providing content and tools to educate consumers on how to use credit cards responsibly
  • Continuing to market credit cards as both payment tools and sources of credit

Discover 3Q12 Financials: 10 Credit Card Metrics to Track With Other Issuers

Discover Financial Services reported third-quarter financials this week. As it publishes financials a few weeks before other leading card issuers, Discover’s results often act as leading indicator of broader credit card industry trends. Using Discover’s results as a benchmark, the following are 10 key credit card metrics to follow when other issuers report over the next month.

Continued improvement in credit quality metrics for leading bank card issuers

All of the leading bank card issuers reported continued improvement in key credit quality metrics for their credit card portfolios in 1Q11, as seen in the following charts.

As a result of these improvement, banks have slashed their provision for credit losses, which has significant boosted profitability.

However, banks’ credit card outstandings are continuing to decline.  In reporting financials, a number of banks reported that they expect outstandings to grow in the second half of the year, and in arecent months, we have seen signs of more aggressive acquisition activity (such as growing direct mail volume and re-appearance of lengthly 0% balance transfer offers).  However, banks will certainly be very cautious in their efforts to grow lending in the coming quarters, as they seek to avoid any repitition of the over-exhuberant lending climate taht prevailed in the middle of the last decade.