For blacks, the picture since the recession has been particularly grim. They disproportionately held subprime mortgages during the housing boom and are facing foreclosure in outsize numbers. That is raising fears among consumer advocates, academics and federal regulators that the credit scores of black Americans have been systematically damaged, haunting their financial futures.
The private companies that calculate credit scores say they do not consider race in their formulas. Lenders also say it is not a factor when deciding who qualifies for a loan; federal laws prohibit the practice. Still, studies have shown a persistent gap between the credit scores of white and black Americans, and many worry that it is only getting wider.
Chicago resident Ida Mae Whitley, 62, used to have stellar credit.
That was before the African American laid eyes on her dream home in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood, where she and her husband hoped to retire — before she said she was steered into a mortgage with more fees and a higher interest rate, putting her in danger of losing her home.
Now, Whitley said, her credit score has tanked, along with her hopes for a comfortable retirement. She can’t even get approved for an auto loan. Her daughter had to delay her education to help support her parents.
“I had number-one credit before this happened,” Whitley said. “I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to rebuild.”
Groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League worry that stories such as Whitley’s are signs that the nation’s financial crisis has ushered in a new era of de facto economic segregation. Some community leaders are calling the rebuilding of wealth in black communities the next frontier for civil rights.
“Folks are going to have to work longer and work harder to even try to maintain a standard of living,” said Kendrick Curry, pastor at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in the District. “It really speaks to a backward movement.”
The Federal Reserve is collecting data on how the recession has affected credit scores by race, in what is expected to be significant research on the issue. But the widespread belief among economists, consumer advocates and community leaders is that black Americans are falling behind.
Credit scores summarize consumers’ financial past and help project their future behavior. A critical factor in deciding who qualifies for a loan, they are designed to give lenders a quick way to assess the risk of a customer. FICO and VantageScore are the two primary companies that generate the scores.