Despite bailout, banks tight with loans

The Baltimore Sun

Many banks have made it harder for borrowers to get all kinds of loans over the past three months - despite a $700 billion federal bailout program and a flurry of other bold moves to stem the worst financial crisis to hit the country since the 1930s.

The Federal Reserve, in its quarterly survey of bank lending practices released yesterday, found large numbers of banks reporting tighter credit standards across a range of loan products - from credit cards and home mortgages to business loans.

Nearly 60 percent of banks said they had tightened lending standards on credit card and other consumer loans, about the same share as in the previous survey released in early November.

About 80 percent of domestic banks said they tightened lending standards on commercial real estate loans, slightly less than the roughly 85 percent that reported doing so in the previous survey.

All told, the proportion of banks that "reported having tightened their lending policies on all major loan categories over the previous three months stayed very elevated," the Fed concluded.

Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, predicted that banks - whose lax lending standards for home mortgages contributed to the financial meltdown - won't be in any rush to loosen lending standards.

"Even when lenders come back to the marketplace and become willing to lend again, who they lend to is not going to change," McBride said. "The tighter qualification standards that we've been seeing are here to stay for the foreseeable future regardless of whether or not there is stress in the credit markets and a deep recession."

The Fed survey was based on the responses of 51 domestic banks and 23 U.S. offices of foreign banks.

The findings come as the government has taken unprecedented action to break up a debilitating credit clog and spur banks to lend more freely.

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