Consumer Payment Card News

Alternative Credit Scores: Rent OK Social Media Not So Much

When it comes to the use of alternative data (non-loan-related information) in lending decisions, eight out of 10 consumers agreed certain payment records—namely rent and utility records—held promise for widening availability of credit if used to evaluate loan applications. 

However, the Consumer Action survey found 96% of respondents balked at the use of social media or video-watching habits to help assess a consumer’s propensity to repay.

While there’s no clear definition for the term “alternative data,” survey respondents were clear that they want companies to get their permission before sharing their behavioral or personal information with others.

An overwhelming majority of consumers surveyed told Consumer Action that companies should ask permission prior to accessing nontraditional, behavioral data for credit analysis.

New sources of information are being eyed to help qualify a broader group of potential borrowers interested in owning homes and qualifying for credit cards and auto loans. This “alternative data” can include rent, cable, cellphone and gas or electric payment histories, typically not found on traditional credit reports.
These nontraditional data sources could show a record of timely, regular payments and hold promise in widening access to credit for those with little or no credit record—so-called “credit invisibles.”

LexisNexis estimates that using some alternative data in credit evaluations could give 15 to 20 million additional consumers access to auto loans, credit cards and other bank products.

Other sources of alternative data, such as occupational licenses, bankruptcies, collections activity and property values, are drawn from public records. More than half (55%) of respondents agreed that public records data (property ownership, lawsuits, etc.) could be fairly used to evaluate potential borrowers.

More questionable is the use of alternative data from far more unconventional sources. Now being used in emerging markets and by some U.S. start-ups, these data sources include social media habits, online purchases, payday loan usage, bank account balances and cellphone data, such as how you organize your contacts or how you punctuate text messages.

In its April poll, Consumer Action allowed respondents to freely comment on the use of alternative data to gauge creditworthiness. The responses were clear about what sort of data crossed the line.

•    “It’s no one’s business but my own how much TV I watch, how often I use social media or what I do on my cell phone,” said one survey participant.

•    “Alternative data should be limited to payments, such as rent, utilities, etc. Video, social media and cell data are not indicative of whether someone will pay their bills.”

Financial technology (fintech) firms already are relying on various forms of behavioral data from our mobile devices to help calculate credit risk. We learned that how often you text, the apps you download and the balances you carry in a mobile wallet could be criteria to assess online loan applicants.

Consumer Action noted consumers don’t have the ability to see and correct some of the more esoteric alternative data being scraped from their digital footprints.


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