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Why more than half of millennials get denied credit

More than half of millennials (58%) were rejected for a financial product because of a poor credit score, according to a new Bankrate survey.

A combined 35% of baby boomers (ages 55-73), Gen X (ages 39-54), and the Silent Generation (74+) failed to obtain at least one financial product because of their credit score, according to the survey.

The top three financial products that millennials were rejected for were credit cards (36%), auto loans (18%), and housing (13% for rent and 13% for mortgages). Bankrate surveyed 2,498 people.

Gen Xers had easier access to credit

The era of credit cards being handed out like candy on college campuses is over. “I hear from so many Gen Xers oh I got my first credit card when I was in college. They set up a table on the quad, they gave me a lame giveaway like a t-shirt or something and I got this card and I ran up a ton of debt,” says Bankrate credit card analyst Ted Rossman.

It has gotten harder for millennials to obtain their first credit card since the last recession. Right before the 2008 financial crisis, consumer debt rose to $12.68 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The Credit Card Act of 2009, which took effect in 2010, aimed to address the factors that contributed to Americans’ skyrocketing debt, including curtailing abusive practices by credit card issuers.

stack of multicolored credit cards, close up view with selective focus
Getty Images

Rossman says an unintended consequence of the Credit Card Act was that it made it harder to get a credit card. “One of the key provisions of this law was to push credit card marketers off college campuses and to make it difficult to get a credit card before your 21st birthday,” he says. “What’s happened in practice is that even beyond 21, people are having trouble qualifying for their first card because it’s like getting your first job. Everybody wants you to have experience but if you don’t have experience then how do you get it?” (Length of credit history makes up about 15% of your overall credit score).

Indeed, banks tightened standards on credit card loans this year, according to the Federal Reserve’s quarterly survey of senior loan officers.

The Credit Card Act also allowed credit card issuers to raise interest rates, a major contributing factor to rising debt. Consumer debt has risen to $13.86 trillion as of the second quarter.

“The easiest way to raise a rate on an existing balance is when you tie it to an underlying index like the prime rate. So what happened post-2010 is that almost all major issuers tied their rates in with the prime rate,” says Rossman.

The four rate hikes by the Federal Reserve in 2018 made matters worse for consumers by pushing these variable rates higher. “It’s actually compounded… the [debt] problem we’re talking about, which is, it’s easy to get into credit card debt, it’s hard to get out,” says Rossman.

Overcoming challenges to obtaining credit

It’s important for consumers to check their credit reports and scores. While 54% of older generations are confident they know their credit score, only 43% of millennials feel the same. “You need to check your credit report and score and figure out where you stand. And if there are errors on there, get them corrected,” says Rossman.

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