Personal Credit Institutions

SIC 6141

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in providing loans to individuals. Also included in this industry are establishments primarily engaged in financing retail sales made on the installment plan and financing automobile loans for individuals.

Industry Snapshot

"Credit" is derived from the Latin word "credo," which means "I believe." It typically refers to a purchase or the power to make a purchase of goods for enjoyment in the present while deferring payment to a future date. Thus the transaction consists of a transfer and delivery of goods in the present in exchange for a promise of future payment.

The granting of credit depends on three factors: character, capacity, and capital. Each of these factors introduces some risk into the transaction. The risk of lending on character is called "moral risk." The risk of lending on capacity is called "business risk." The risk of lending on capital is called "property risk." An ideal borrower will meet a minimum of requirements set for evaluating each of these three risks.

Because it is impossible for most companies to determine how their credit applicants are ranked in each of these categories, they must obtain their information from centralized sources. These sources are credit-reporting agencies. Credit-reporting agencies keep files of information on all consumers who have made credit transactions at some point in their lives. Credit-granting institutions may purchase these files to evaluate the "credit-worthiness" of individual applicants. Since misuse or abuse of these files can be financially detrimental to the consumer, the credit reporting industry is heavily regulated. Adverse information must be removed within seven years--except bankruptcy, which remains in a credit file for 10 years. Disputed information that cannot be verified must be removed, and access to the file must be granted for the individual concerned. Finally, the information may only be given to authorized users.

The personal credit industry encompasses many diverse organizations. These participants range from billion-dollar corporations employing thousands of people to small, one-office credit firms with a handful of staff and assets of less than $1 million.

The U.S. economic recession in the early 2000s helped fuel consumer debt levels, as well as personal bankruptcies, to record highs. However, a tougher bankruptcy law became effective October 17, 2005, to make filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy more difficult. Chapter 7 provided a "clean slate" for consumers who retain all exempt property and can walk away virtually debt free. The effect of the law forced more consumers to file under the guidelines of Chapter 13, which provided for a five-year repayment plan.

Although the economy temporarily stabilized in the mid-2000s, consumer debt continued to grow. By 2010, consumer credit totaled more than $2.4 trillion. Revolving credit (e.g., bank and store credit cards) was on the rise, while nonrevolving credit (e.g., auto loans, student loans) slightly decreased.

Organization and Structure

Personal credit transactions are regulated by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and the Uniform Consumer Credit Code (UCCC). Additionally, a number of pieces of legislation are designed to protect the consumer, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed into law on July 21, 2010. Each of the various entities that constitute this category has varying organizations and structures.

Automobile Loans.
Because automobiles are too expensive for most individuals to purchase with cash, a majority of new car purchases are made with the assistance of automobile loans; these types of loans are typically made by banks and finance companies. This type of consumer lending typically matures between 12 and 72 months.

Automobile loans may be either direct or indirect. Direct automobile loans are made to the consumer to purchase an automobile and are secured by a chattel interest in the auto. Indirect automobile loans are made by the auto dealer. Under this arrangement the dealer collects the required information from the consumer and furnishes it to the bank. The bank then either accepts or rejects the applicant. Usually the dealer packages the loans in bundles and sells them to banks; these loans tend to have higher delinquency rates than direct loans.

The automobile loan is the most common type of consumer loan, accounting for more than 40 percent of all consumer credit. The basic rule of thumb is that consumers should consider automobile purchases that are no more than 20 percent of their annual income. Banks, however, make less than 40 percent of all automobile loans. The remainder of the loans are made by auto manufacturers' financing divisions. These financing entities offer below-market rates, as well as more flexible financing options to stimulate the sales of their products.

Banks also offer "floorplan" financing to support dealers' leasing programs. Floorplan financing, or trust receipt financing, is a form of inventory financing under which the bank holds title to the automobile inventory. The automobile dealer is considered the borrower in these transactions and is loaned funds to buy the inventory from suppliers. The dealer holds the inventory in trust for the bank and then sells inventory to consumers. Subsequently, these proceeds are paid to the bank, but the dealer keeps the mark-up of the retail price over the payments due the bank. When the sale is made on a credit basis, the dealer often sells the obligation to the bank.

Consumer Finance Companies.
Consumer finance companies are small loan companies that specialize in personal loans under the small loan laws of the various states. These establishments are often called personal finance companies.

Financing of Automobiles, Furniture, Appliances, Personal Airplanes, Not Engaged in Deposit Banking.
The financing of personal property is included under the general title of consumer credit. Consumer credit is the short- and medium-term debt owed by individuals to financial institutions, retailers, and other distributors for financing consumer purchases of goods and services, but not including real estate mortgages and insurance policy loans.

Due to the disparate positions of the creditor and consumer in negotiating credit terms, the government regulates this industry very heavily. The Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968 assured that every consumer with a need for credit was given meaningful information with respect to the cost of that credit. This means that the dollar amount of the finance charge, as well as the annual percentage rate computed on the unpaid balance, must be disclosed. Other information must also be disclosed to allow the consumer the opportunity to compare readily the various credit terms offered by different sources.

The Consumer Credit Protection Act and other related regulations apply to banks, savings and loan associations, department stores, credit card issuers, credit unions, automobile dealers, consumer finance companies, hospitals, and any other organizations that extend or arrange credit to which a finance charge is added. Residential mortgage brokers, artisans, doctors, dentists, and other professionals are also subject to these regulations. The act does not apply to business and commercial credit (governed by the UCC), credit to government entities, transactions covered by the SEC, and credit over $25,000, except for household and agricultural uses.

Interest on consumer credit transactions is typically computed in one of two ways. For open-end credit accounts with credit cards and revolving charge accounts in retail stores, finance charges are imposed on unpaid balances each month. To determine the monthly finance charge rate, the annual rate is divided by 12. For example 1.5 percent might be applied per month for an annual rate of 18 percent. For other forms of credit, including loans and sales credit, the total amount, number of payments, and due dates are negotiated with the consumer. Examples of these transactions include an automobile loan or the purchase of a large appliance on department store credit.

Installment Sales Finance, Other Than Banks.
Installment sales are sales of goods under a definite schedule of payments, which involve a specified cash outlay as a down payment with the balance payable in agreed-upon periodic installments until the item is paid for. This type of sale is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before 1922, installment sales were confined to a small number of retail outlets, typically those specializing in lower quality merchandise. In the late 1920s, this type of transaction became more popular after its success in the automotive industry and intense promotion by consumer finance companies. Automobile sales have been the most prevalent form of installment sales through the present day.

Installment sales are based on one of two legal documents. The first is a conditional sales contract under which the title, or ownership, of the item remains with the seller. The second is the chattel mortgage under which the buyer holds title subject to a lien in favor of the seller. As the various states have detailed and complex legislation on conditional sales, most creditors favor the chattel mortgage, which is governed by Article 9 of the UCC. Under this process, the buyer signs a promissory note, secured by the product, that constitutes a promise to repay the debt. The mortgage will typically contain an acceleration clause (causing the entire debt to come due upon certain conditions that indicate default) and a power-of-sale clause (allowing the seller to repossess the item and sell it, subject to certain conditions that indicate default).

Other terms may also be present in chattel mortgages. A "balloon" installment plan is one under which the initial payments are small, but a later one is very large, usually requiring refinancing. Another financing plan is the "open end" type of chattel mortgage, under which additional purchases may be made on an installment basis. Under this arrangement, the seller retains a lien on all of the purchased goods whether they have been paid for or not. If the buyer defaults on a later purchase, the seller may repossess all of the items purchased. While many of these provisions still exist, the current trend is toward consumer-oriented legislation that renders such excessively punitive practices illegal or nonbinding.

The Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968.
The key provisions of this act are: Title I, the Truth-in-Lending Act, which provides for consumer credit cost disclosure; Title II, which contains penalties for extortionate credit transactions; Title III, which contains restrictions on garnishments; and Title IV, which provides for the establishment of the National Commission on Consumer Finance to report and make recommendations to Congress on consumer credit topics. Title V pertains to the issuance of credit cards, liabilities of credit card holders, and the fraudulent use of credit cards. Title VI contains provisions relating to credit information and credit reports and gives credit consumers the right to confront the preparers of credit reports and correct any misstatements of facts contained in such reports. The act also prohibits unwarranted disclosure of the information contained in these reports, requires the elimination of erroneous information, and protects against unfair credit reporting practices.

The Fair Credit Billing Act, an amendment to the Truth-in-Lending Act, states that consumers shall have fair methods available for the correction of billing errors.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act declares that creditors cannot discriminate against consumers seeking credit based on sex or marital status.

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act requires that a standard real estate settlement form be developed in compliance with the provisions of the Truth-in-Lending Act for use in all transactions involving federally funded or secured mortgage loans. This form includes a clear and conspicuous itemization of all settlement charges imposed upon the buyer and seller, as well as greater disclosure of the nature and costs of real estate settlement charges.

The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act requires that mortgage lending be free of discriminatory bias and requires that depository institutions with offices in metropolitan areas and with assets of more than $10 million identify the geographic distribution of their home mortgage loan.

The Consumer Leasing Act, another amendment to the Truth-in Lending Act, requires that consumers be provided with full information regarding the terms of their leases of personal property, including open-end and closed-end vehicle and furniture leases.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes abusive and deceptive debt collection practices illegal for those the act defines as debt collectors, as opposed to the primary lender.

The Truth-in-Lending Simplification and Reform Act exempts all extensions of credit for agricultural purposes from the disclosure provisions of the Truth-in-Lending Act, eliminates disclosure requirements calling for periodic statements from lenders in connection with closed-end credit transactions, and allows an exception to the "cooling off" period for consumers who pledge their homes as collateral in open-end credit arrangements.

The Installment Sale Revision Act liberalizes the rules for postponing tax on property that is sold on the deferred payment basis.

Most of this legislation was passed between the late 1960s and mid-1970s in response to a broader concern for consumer protection. Currently, the consumer credit industry is one of the most heavily regulated segments of the economy.

As installment selling has become more established, commercial banks have also become involved in this industry. To remain liquid, finance companies and retailers often sell these obligations, or chattel paper, to banks or factors. The bank pays cash, normally at a discount, to the seller who turns the buyer's obligation over to the bank.

In the late 1970s, the Carter Administration attempted to restrain consumer credit to curb inflation. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System implemented several programs in compliance with this broader policy, including a voluntary credit restraint program; a program of restraint on specified types of consumer credit, including credit cards, check overdraft plans, unsecured credit, and secured credit, where the proceeds are not used to finance the collateral; an increase in the marginal reserve requirement on managed liabilities of Federal Reserve member banks and a decrease in the base amount on which these charges applied; a 10 percent deposit requirement on managed liabilities of nonmember banks and a 15 percent deposit requirement on any increase of money market funds over the March 14, 1980, base period; and a surcharge on frequent discount borrowing by large Federal Reserve member banks.

Morris Plans Not Engaged in Deposit Banking.
Morris Plans are named after Arthur J. Morris who founded a system of personal loans in 1910 at the Fidelity Savings & Trust Co. of Norfolk, Virginia. Morris Plan loans are made on a monthly repayment basis, with the first month's installment deducted from the face value of the loan and the remaining balance. This arrangement makes the effective interest rate about twice the nominal rate. Because of the permissive banking laws effective at the time, the plan evolved as a loan for the amount desired, nominally to purchase an investment certificate, to be paid for in monthly installments with the credit for the payments going to the certificate rather than the loan account. A variation on this scheme credited the monthly payments to a deposit account. Thus, under either scenario, the effective rate of interest, about twice the nominal rate, did not violate usury laws. Currently, several states have modified their banking laws to allow Morris Plans, avoiding the need to resort to legal actions.

In addition to providing loan funds, Morris Plans also provide life insurance for borrowers. Borrowers can purchase life insurance policies for the full amount of their loans; if the borrower dies while the loan is outstanding, the insurance would be applied to the full amount of the loan, and the remainder would be paid to the family or estate.

Mutual Benefit Associations.
Mutual Benefit Associations, or Mutual Associations, are savings banks, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, and credit unions that are not organized under state corporation laws as stock corporations but are owned by their depositors, policyholders, or members. In the mid-1990s, these included mutual savings banks, savings and loan associations, and credit unions. Savings and loan institutions are either state or federally chartered and deposit insurance is available from state and federal insurance agencies for these institutions.

Mutual savings banks, savings and loans, and credit unions are permitted to sell federal mutual certificates, which allow these institutions to efficiently build their net worth and reserves. These certificates are obligations that are subordinated to savings accounts, savings certificates, and debt obligations of the mutual benefit association. The target net worth-to-resources ratio is 3 percent and the desired net worth-to-liability ratio is 6 percent.

Personal Finance Companies, Small Loan: Licensed.
These organizations specialize in personal loans, which are cash loans to individual borrowers for such purposes as refinancing payments on medical bills, taxes, and insurance premiums. These companies also provide cash for transactions that will permit cost savings for borrowers.

The industry is very closely regulated. Personal finance companies are subject to related statutes in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Most of the loans made by these companies are subject to a state version of the Uniform Small Loan Law or the Model Consumer Finance Act. These institutions are also subject to state laws that regulate sales financing and revolving credit, insurance premium financing, home repair financing, second mortgagees on homes, and usury laws. Personal finance companies must also comply with the Uniform Consumer Credit Code and the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act.

Personal loan companies operate either as chains with many locations or as independent offices. The primary customers of these institutions are wage earners in the lower income bracket. To target these customers, most personal loan companies are located in industrial centers and urban areas where they can generate sufficient volume or in jurisdictions that allow them to charge the high interest rates necessary to maintain profitability.

Most of the receivables of these companies are unsecured. They are most concerned with the ability of the borrower to repay the obligation out of monthly income as opposed to the ability to repossess and liquidate security. Because of the frequently urgent nature of such loans, the application process tends to be simplified and streamlined.

Personal finance companies, also known as consumer credit companies or small loan companies, have been instrumental in educating consumers in the management of personal finance, particularly in advising against over-borrowing and improper management of personal finances.

Background and Development

While each of the separate entities included under this industry classification has a distinct history and development, there are issues that are common to all.

As the American economy has become more consumer oriented, many options that allow consumers easier access to products have been created. Most of these fall under the personal finance industry. In the 2000s, personal finance was one of the largest and most aggressive sectors of the broader finance industry.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, a wave of regulations were passed by Congress in response to the public's demand for greater protection from unfair practices by the government. This wave of regulation was designed to protect the consumer from unfair credit collection practices and unconscionable credit terms by requiring creditors to adhere to stricter standards and fully disclose consumer credit terms.

Many personal credit institutions sell their loans to other companies. This frees money for new loans and investments. While this practice is not new, it intensified during the early 1990s. In other cases, the loans are serviced for a fee by companies other than the lender, which allows the loan originator to free resources normally used in processing loan-related paperwork. The booming economy of the mid-1990s allowed credit companies to prosper. GMAC, for example, saw its total assets rise by $8 billion from year-end 1995 to year-end 1996. The company operated from nearly 600 offices worldwide and serviced 7.2 million customer accounts. GMAC's primary business was financing consumer purchases of new cars. However, the widely diversified company also financed home mortgages, home equity loans, various insurance products, and other lines of business. Between founding in 1919 and the mid-1990s, GMAC extended $870 billion in credit to help finance more than 138 million vehicle purchases. GMAC shut down in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis that affected so many financial institutions, both large and small.

The competition between credit card companies intensified in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as consumer confidence decreased and the public grew more reluctant to buy on credit during the prolonged recession. In 1993, MasterCard International Inc. had the largest change in volume, with a 23 percent increase, compared with 16 percent for Visa International and 10 percent for American Express Company. Most of this difference was attributed to MasterCard's aggressive co-branding program. In co-branding, a card issuer joins with another organization, a car manufacturer for example, to offer a card jointly with benefits from both companies including rebates on purchases from the co-branding company. By the end of 1993, MasterCard had issued 25 million co-branded cards to consumers.

U.S. Banker reported that consumer debt was on the rise again by the end of 1997. The American Bankruptcy Institute of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts reported that consumer debts during the 1990s grew twice as fast as mortgage debt, which grew 60 percent faster than consumer earnings. The personal loan industry was also challenged by the trend of increasing personal bankruptcy; in 1996, for example, $30 billion of consumer debt in the United States was discharged in bankruptcy, leaving credit agencies with nothing. Credit agencies took preventative measures to try to slow the trend, including raising interest rates and putting more effort into collections.

The late 1990s marked a period of unprecedented spending in the United States. When the economy began to weaken in 2000, consumer debt began to climb to record levels. The average consumer credit card debt in American households grew from $7,842 at the end of 2000, to $8,234 at the end of 2001, and $8,940 by the end of 2002. Between 2001 and 2002, credit card debt grew 8.5 percent, and between 1997 and 2000, credit card debt grew 36 percent.

Because of this mounting debt, along with higher unemployment levels, bankruptcy filings reached a record 395,129 during the last three months of 2002. Between 2001 and 2002, personal bankruptcies grew 5.7 percent to reach more than 1.57 million.

The Bankruptcy Reform Act went into effect on October 17, 2005. Under Chapter 7, consumers' debts are wiped clean and because most Americans have few seizable assets besides their cars and homes (in some states, homes are exempt and cannot be seized), credit companies often must write off the debt as a loss. Of the nearly 1.6 billion bankruptcy cases filed in the United States in 2004, more than 70 percent were Chapter 7. Under Chapter 13 filings, consumers are required to work out a five-year repayment plan. The tougher law imposes more restrictions on filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, including an income means test. For example, consumers with an income above their state's median (e.g., $50,529 for a family of four in Louisiana in 2005) are ineligible for Chapter 7. In addition, applicants must also show that they cannot pay at least 25 percent of their unsecured debt (e.g., credit cards). Although the new law led to a spike in bankruptcy filings during the first three quarters of 2005, credit card companies expected the legislation to improve credit quality in the long run. "The real value of the bill is that it is going to make it much, much less attractive for people to file who have a meaningful capacity to repay and are using the system as a low-risk way to avoid significant amount of debts," Jeff Tassey of the lobbying firm Tassey & Associates told American Banker.

During the mid-2000s, the credit industry relied highly on technology to conduct their business. All major credit providers maintain an extensive presence on the Internet, with Web sites where consumers can apply for credit as well as manage their account, including paying their monthly bills. The increased sophisticated use of Internet technology has been accompanied by a parallel increase in the sophistication of the scams, phishing (pretending to be a legitimate company to obtain sensitive information from consumers), and identity theft.

In June 2005, Mastercard announced that about 40 million cards had been exposed to a security breach at Tucson-based CardSystems Solutions, a third-party processor of card data. Earlier in the year, other security breaches occurred at Bank of America, ChoicePoint, Inc., and Reed Elsevier. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 10 million consumers were victims of identity theft in 2002. This led to the passage of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACT Act) in 2003, which afforded consumers more protection from identity theft. Under the provisions of FACT Act, consumers are given access to one free credit report annually from one of the three major credit bureaus. In addition, the factors that were used to compute their credit score must be disclosed. The act also imposed more requirements on creditors to "red flag" suspicious activities.

Extremely low interest rates that persisted during the early 2000s drove consumer spending, and personal credit use increased. The credit card companies benefited from the economic environment. However, by 2005 interest rates ere increasing, consumer confidence was shaky, and revolving credit was declining. Revolving credit increased sharply in 2006, while nonrevolving credit dropped. Factors affecting credit card use included a growing trend among consumers to tap into funds using a home equity line of credit as well as the rapidly increasing use of debit cards.

Lenders were forced to become more judicious following a wave of mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures contributing to a housing slump in the mid- to late 2000s. According to an Experian/Gallup Personal Credit Index survey late in 2007, 18 percent of respondents said someone close to them had been turned down for credit within the past three months. The same poll asked people whether they know anyone who has filed for bankruptcy or gone into foreclosure in the past three months, and 12 percent said they do. Indeed, foreclosures passed the 1.5 million mark in the first half of 2008, then hit a new record in the first half of 2009 at 1.9 million. By the third quarter of 2010, 1 in every 136 homes were in foreclosure.

Current Conditions

According to Fair Isaac, a decisions management solutions firm, in 2010 the average American consumer had 13 credit obligations on record with a credit bureau. Of these, nine were credit cards (including bank, store, and gas cards) and four were installment loans (including mortgage, auto, and student loans). The average total of credit available to typical consumer was approximately $19,000 on all credit cards combined, but more than half of consumers used less than 30 percent of their credit limit. About one in seven consumers used more than 80 percent of their available credit. About 40 percent of U.S. credit card holders carried a balance of less than $1,000, and about 15 percent had total credit card balances in excess of $10,000.

According to a report by research firm Demos, the economic recession prompted Americans to use their credit cards to make ends meet. Overall, credit card debt quadrupled between 1989 and 2009 and increased 41 percent between 2000 and 2009, reaching more than $1 trillion. According to the report, in 2009 three out of four low- and middle-income households used their credit cards as a safety net, with more than one in three using credit cards to cover basic living expenses, such as rent, mortgage payment, groceries, utilities, and insurance.

Consumers gained additional rights when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into law in July 2010. The myriad of provisions in the act, which was cited as the most sweeping revision of financial services regulation since the 1930s, included the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which was designed to protect the rights of credit consumers.

Industry Leaders

Several major mergers and acquisitions occurred among the top companies in the 2000s. Some of these included JP Morgan Chase's purchase of Bank One for $76 billion in 2004; Bank of America's acquisition of Fleet for $17 billion in 2005, and the 2005 Bank of America and MBNA, In addition, Washington Mutual bought Providian Financial for $6.5 billion. In 2010 Bank of America made paid about $50 billion in stock for Merrill Lynch.

In 2010, Bank of America was the largest credit card issuer in the world, with 40 million active accounts and $143 billion in outstanding balances as of the late 2000s. Chase, Citi, American Express, and Capital One rounded out the top five rankings within the industry. HSBC, Discover, and Wells Fargo were also in the top 10 for the world.


This industry classification includes many diverse employers who employ anywhere from 20 to 20,000 workers. The employees in this field represent diverse backgrounds in the finance industry and its related support services. These workers include bankers, tellers, loan officers, secretaries, and security personnel.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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