Last week Loans Canada, a loans comparison platform, released a survey of over 900 financially vulnerable Canadians. These being defined as those Canadians who rely on low income, who have limited access to credit, and who have little to no savings available, the study found that many of the respondents were at risk of financial troubles from covid-19 due to their restricted means and ineligibility for government welfare programs.
30% of those surveyed reported that they are unable to access the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit, a program that offers CAD$500 a week to those whose finances have been negatively affected by covid-19, due to the terms of the package. In order to qualify, one must earn less than CAD$1,000 over the four week period that the claim is for, leaving many who work part-time or who have had their hours cut unable to access the money.
As well as this, the survey recorded that many of these individuals are having difficulty accessing credit, as nearly 50% said that their bank has denied them funding. This coupled with the fact that 80% have experienced a loss of income due to the novel coronavirus, as well as only 12% of respondents having the government-recommended three months of living expenses saved up, paints a grim picture for the future finances of those vulnerable Canadians.
Beyond immediate finances, 73% of those surveyed believed that the pandemic would negatively affect their credit scores, 63% expect to miss paying at least one bill over the next six months, and 78% claim that they will struggle to finance their necessary expenses if the covid-19 situation continues through the summer.
Altogether, the study indicates a need for more financing amongst those likely to be hit hardest by the economic knock-on from covid-19. What remains to be determined however, is whether it will come in the form of governmental relief, credit from their banks, or funding from the non-bank lenders.
The Trump administration last week released a set of guidelines on how states and local governments may reopen.
Titled ‘Opening Up America Again,’ the document outlines criteria to help classify which stage a region or state is in. Being a guideline rather than an order, it is not an exact prediction of how local and state economies will restart; with this process left to be decided by state governors rather than the president. As such, the plan omits details and specific requirements that would otherwise be left to the states.
The document notes a set of standards that must be met in order to prove eligible for entering each stage. Among these are practices being employed currently, like the establishment of contact tracing systems, increased ICU capacities, and the provision of testing sites for those who are symptomatic of covid-19. However, one standard, the adequate supplying of personal protection equipment and critical medical equipment, has proved difficult across the United States as ventilators, masks, and gowns worn by medical professionals are scarce.
If a state or region meets each of the listed criteria then it enters phase one. In this stage, services, individuals, and employers are suggested to act in their most limited capacity. Vulnerable individuals are asked to continue to shelter in place, and those who live with vulnerable individuals are asked to be mindful of going to work; gatherings of more than 10 people where strict physical distancing is not possible are to be avoided; non-essential travel is to be limited; telework is encouraged; staff common areas are to close; schools and organized youth activities are to be cancelled; large venues can open under strict physical distancing protocols, just as gyms can; and bars are to remain closed.
If the gating criteria are met a second time, the beginning of phase two is signaled. Here many of the guidelines stay the same, except the physical distancing standards are relaxed for large venues, schools may reopen, gatherings of up to 50 people are deemed safe so long as physical distancing is observed, non-essential travel can resume, and bars “may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy.”
And finally, if a state or region shows signs of no rebound of covid-19 and satisfy the gating criteria a third time, they enter the final phase. Vulnerable individuals may resume public interactions while practicing physical distancing; employers can reopen common areas; visits to senior living facilities and hospitals can resume; and large venues, bars, and gyms may operate under less restrictive protocols.
Again, the implementation of these guidelines remains an uncertainty. With states and governors being split over their reaction to the novel coronavirus as well as the level to which they are affected by the pandemic, it is unclear how
many, if any, will adhere to ‘Opening Up America Again.’
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the economy and affect small businesses as well as funders, deBanked will keep up with how various figures from the alternative finance sector are managing under the stresses of covid-19. Ranging from funders, to brokers, to those figures on the periphery of the industry, this series aims to highlight a variety of voices and we encourage you to reach out to deBanked to discuss how your business is doing.
One such voice this week was Shawn Smith, CEO of Dedicated Commercial Recovery. Specializing in debt recovery and legal enforcement, Smith told deBanked that his business has already seen a jump in demand, but that he reckons, for now, most demand will be for modifications on existing deals. According to Smith, many of his clients have explained to him that merchants have been requesting changes to the terms of the financing, either by tweaking the rates or length of repayment.
“Just in two weeks we can see an uptick, but by and large, it hasn’t majorly spiked. I think it’s spiking with the funders or the creditors right now. And we’ll be next on that … a major thing I’m hearing is a dramatic increase in inbound calls to our clients for modifications.”
In Smith’s view, this back and forth between merchants and funders is a better scenario than the alternative, making clear that honest communication is necessary in a crisis like this.
“Hopefully everybody’s working together through this, which does seem to be the case right now. I honestly think we’re past the point of some people calling this a hoax, or it’s not to be taken seriously. And I’m seeing a lot of rallying around the idea of ‘we’re in this together even though we can’t stand next to each other.’ A kind of American spirit of we’re going to beat this, we’re going to get through it.”
For Idea Financial, the idea of working together has manifested, just as it has for many companies across the world, digitally. CEO Justin Leto and President Larry Bassuk explained to deBanked that since their entire company is working remotely, the communication app Slack has stepped in for continual conversation between employees and Zoom is being used to check in with the team multiple times throughout the day.
“In many ways, our teams interact more now than they did when they were in the office together. We hold competitions, share personal stories, and really support one another. At Idea, the sentiment that we feel is that everyone appreciated each other more now than before, and we all look forward to seeing each other again in person soon.”
On Thursday, industry leaders took part in a webinar hosted by LendIt Co-Founder and Chairman Peter Renton. Various subjects relating to Covid-19 were up for discussion by Lendio’s Brock Blake, Kabbage’s Kathryn Petralia, and Luz Urrutia of Opportunity Fund, with the $2 trillion government bill being foremost among them.
Blake, who had been in touch with Senators Romney and Rubio, explained that most small businesses will be eligible for a loan out of the $350 billion fund that would be allotted to the SBA under the $2 trillion bill, saying that “a tsunami of loan applications is coming because almost all small business owners in America will qualify for this product.” The Lendio CEO also noted that business can expect to pay an interest rate of 3.75% on these loans, only a portion of each individual loan may be forgivable, and the max amount loaned out will be two and a half times the business’s monthly payroll, rent, and utilities combined.
Beyond the specifics of the 7(a) loan program, Blake expressed concern over the SBA’s bandwidth, saying that he was unsure whether or not the organization and the banks that it will partner with to deliver these loans will have the capacity to process them, a point echoed by Urrutia. “We’re talking about businesses that are going to need a ton of support,” the Opportunity Fund CEO said. “With these programs, the money doesn’t really get down to the bottom of the pyramid.”
Collectively, the group hoped that the SBA would open up their channels and allow non-bank lenders to use some of the $350 billion to fund small businesses, citing that neither government agencies nor banks have the technology nor processes to hastily deal with the amount of applications that will come. In other words, the SBA is working with “dinosaur technology,” as Blake called it.
One point of concern that continually arose during the conversation was the situation lenders will find themselves in as the pandemic continues. With Blake saying that an estimated 50% of non-bank lenders on his platform have hit the pause button on new loans, each of the other participants expressed worry about lenders being wiped off the map during and in the aftermath of this crisis.
As well as this, Petralia explained that funders can expect to encounter increased rates of fraud during this time: “In times like this, the bad guys come out in force … criminals are very creative and smart, so I promise you they’ll come up with new ways to fraud the system.” Discussing how they are dealing with this, the group mentioned that they were incorporating additional revenue and cash balance checks, as well as social media checks to see whether the business announced that it had closed due to the coronavirus.
Altogether, the conversation was one of uncertainty, but also one of hope to keep the wheels of the industry turning as more and more small business owners look for financing to keep their payroll flowing. As Renton said closing the session, “This is our time to shine, this is fintech’s time to show what it’s been working on for the last decade.”
As the market cheers the upcoming passage of a $2 Trillion stimulus bill that is intended to provide much needed support to small businesses, industry insiders are beginning to raise concerns about the SBA’s infrastructural ability to process applications in a timely manner.
In a webinar hosted by LendIt Fintech yesterday, Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia estimated that conservatively, it could take the SBA up to two months to even begin disbursing loans offered by the bill. Kabbage President Kathryn Petralia offered the most optimistic estimate of 10 days, while Lendio CEO Brock Blake thinks that perhaps it could take around 3 weeks.
Blake followed up the webinar by sharing a post on LinkedIn that said that small businesses were reporting that the SBA’s website was so slow, so riddled with crashes, that the SBA had to temporarily take their site offline.
Most skeptics raising alarms are not referring to the SBA’s staff as being unprepared, but rather the systems the SBA has in place.
A March 25th tweet by the SBA reported that the site was undergoing “scheduled” improvements and maintenance.
— SBA (@SBAgov) March 25, 2020
This all while the demand for capital is surging. Blake reported in the webinar that loan applications had just recently increased by 5x at the same time that around 50% of non-bank lenders they work with have suspended lending.
Some informal surveying by deBanked of non-bank small business finance companies is finding that among many that still claim to be operating, origination volumes have dropped by more than 80% in recent weeks, mainly driven by stay-at-home and essential-business-only orders issued by state governments.
It’s a circular loop that puts further pressure on the SBA to come through, none of which is made easier by the manual application process they’re advising eager borrowers to take on. The SBA’s website asks that borrowers seeking Economic Injury Disaster Loan Assistance download an application to fill out by hand, upload that into their system and then await further instructions from an SBA officer about additional documentation they should physically mail in.
Perhaps there’s another way, according to letters sent to members of Congress by online lenders. 22 Fintech companies recently made the case that they are equipped to advance the capital provided for in the stimulus bill.
“We seek no gain from this crisis. Our only aim is to protect the millions of small businesses that we are proud to call our customers,” the letter states.
Members of the Small Business Finance Association made a similar appeal in a letter dated March 18th to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. “In this time of need, we want to leverage the experience and expertise we have with our companies to help provide efficient funding to those impacted in this tough economic climate. We want to serve as a resource to governments as they build up underwriting models to ensure emergency funding will be the most impactful.”
How fast things come together next will be key. The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate Bill today. If a plan to distribute the capital cannot be expedited and the crisis drags on, the consequences could be dire.
“Hundreds of thousands of businesses are going to be out of business,” Urrutia warned in the webinar.
Note from the Editor: In early February, I asked one of our regular journalists, Paul Sweeney, to look into the economy and the presidential race to size up the coming election season. As he was wrapping up his interviews over the span of a month, things took a startling turn, and COVID-19 came to the forefront and changed everything. This story is an amalgamation of reporting that started one way and quickly morphed into another. In light of how fast the situation is changing, we are publishing it now rather than waiting until early April to release it in print.
Chris Hurn, who heads an Orlando-area financial firm in Florida that specializes in small business lending, says he is witnessing fear and desperation among business owners whose stores, shops and enterprises have been thrown into a tailspin by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with telephone calls and e-mails,” says Hurn, chief executive at Fountainhead Commercial Capital, a non-bank Small Business Administration lender which boasts more than $250 million in originations last year. “I’ve fielded over 300 inquiries from borrowers about these loans in just the last few days,” he added. “People are telling me that they’re being harmed and don’t know how they’ll make payroll. The SBA needs to act.”
What Hurn is experiencing in Florida is not just an isolated incident. Thousands of small businesses are under siege nationwide as Americans’ have gone into isolation in response to the pandemic, helping precipitate a full-blown economic crisis. As of March 17, the coronavirus – also known as Covid-19 – had leapfrogged across the globe since appearing in China in December, 2019, infecting people in 100 countries. There are now some 272,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide and close to 11,300 deaths, according to data compiled by scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
In the U.S., the number of cases has cleared 19,000 as of March 20, the death toll has climbed above 230, and coronavirus cases have been recorded in all 50 states. The Center for Disease Control reports that the number of cases are growing at 25-30% per day. But experts warn that, because of a lack of testing, the actual number of cases is certainly higher.
The outbreak is drawing comparisons to the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918. Popularly known as the “Spanish Flu,” that virus may have claimed as many as 100 million lives, according to estimates by the World Health Organization. Medical officials say that persons 70 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, such as a weakened immune system, are most at risk in the current pandemic.
“What makes this disease so lethal,” says Rachel Scott, a family physician in Austin, Texas and the author of “Muscle and Blood,” a pathbreaking study of occupational diseases, “is that people in the vulnerable population who come down with the virus are prone to contract severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. In ARDS, the virus destroys the sacs in the lungs, preventing oxygen from being delivered into the blood stream. By the time people with severe ARDS are hospitalized and treated with a ventilator, it may already be too late.”
To blunt the accelerated pace of contagion, governors and mayors are putting restrictions on citizens by curbing gatherings and monitoring interactions. Governors in 44 states have forced restaurants and bars to close shop in an unprecedented regulation of U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, millions of Americans self-quarantined and self-isolated and re-examined how they interact socially, commercially and professionally. Increasingly draconian controls to moderate the trajectory of the outbreak are not only turning cityscapes into ghost towns from coast-to-coast but throwing a giant monkey wrench into the U.S. economy.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reportedly warned Congressional leaders that the unemployment rate could spike to 20%.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has gone Mnuchin one better amid reports that 1.2 Americans had filed for unemployment insurance. In an interview on MSNBC Thursday, Reich said he feared that the unemployment rate is likely to hit that 20% mark in the next two weeks. “Eighty percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” he declared ominously. “We’re in a national emergency.”
The pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis is also casting a giant shadow over the 2020 presidential election. “It’s a black swan event that wasn’t anticipated by any of the candidates, and the reverberations for the election are going to be huge,” said Richard Murray, a political scientist and elections expert at the University of Houston.
For the past 50 years, political analysts have generally agreed, the condition of the U.S. economy was a key predictor – if not the key predictor – to the outcome of presidential elections. President Jimmy Carter, for example, had the bad fortune to preside over a problematic economy marked by oil-price shocks and energy shortages, mile-long queues at gasoline stations, and sky-high interest rates. There was even a new word — “stagflation” – coined for the phenomenon of stagnant growth and runaway inflation, recalls David Prindle, a government professor and expert on voting behavior at the University of Texas at Austin.
There were, of course, additional negative complications to Carter’s presidency. Most notable was the “Hostage Crisis” in which Iranian students attacked the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in the fall of 1979, held 44 American diplomats and aides captive for more than a year, and made Carter look hapless and helpless. Nonetheless, Ronald Reagan, a former governor of California and longtime matinee idol, hammered Carter mercilessly on the economy, demanding: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Answering that question sent Carter packing to his Georgia peanut business. “In 1980, as in every election, there were multiple causes,” says Prindle, “but the deciding factor was the economy.”
A healthy economy can serve as a mighty bulwark against opponents in a president’s bid for a second term. In the mid-1990s, an expanding economy and relentlessly buoyant stock prices – a Dow Jones Industrial Average so robust in the mid-1990’s that Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan famously admonished investors for their “irrational exuberance” – allowed Bill Clinton to sail to re-election. (The good times also buffered Clinton during the ensuing sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky.)
As the election year of 2020 dawned, a decently performing economy seemed to be serving President Donald Trump’s cause. Before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in early March, the U.S. economy was coming off 10 full years of job growth and the unemployment rate had sunk to 3.5 percent, its lowest level in 50 years. Wages were also rising by nearly 4 percent per annum, noted Aparna Mathur, a labor economist at the business-backed American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy is not spectacular,” she said, “but everything is moving in the right direction.”
Since then, however, the economy has been slammed as an alarmed country reacted to the pandemic. The NBA and NHL closed down their basketball and hockey seasons. Major League Baseball called a halt to spring training. The NCAA initially declared that “March Madness” would proceed and that hoopsters would perform before empty arenas, but then it pulled the plug. Even professional golf, an outdoor sport, hung up its cleats, announcing that The Masters, played at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Course in April and the crown jewel of professional golf, would be postponed indefinitely.
Almost overnight, colleges and universities shut down classrooms, emptied their dorms, and opted for online coursework. Some 33 million schoolchildren in 41 states have ceased attending school. Hundreds of companies, including Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle, a city hit hard by the coronavirus, are requiring their employees to “telecommute” by working at home on their laptops.
The CDC at first advised Americans not to cluster in groups of more than 25 people, then cut that figure to 10. Americans are being prodded to engage in “social-distancing” by avoiding shaking hands and separating themselves from others by a separation of three-to-six feet from others. San Francisco has gone still further, grounding cable cars, closing down clubs and bars and restaurants and effectively putting the city on lockdown.
The city of Boston called off its iconic St. Patrick’s Day parade, Broadway theaters dimmed their lights, and Starbucks forbade customers to sit down in its coffee shops. Major events like South by Southwest, the music and cultural festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled, depriving Texas’s capital city of some $350 million in economic activity.
Jilting the festival cuts deeper than the losses to airlines, hotels, bars, restaurants, and music venues, notes Alfred Watkins, a Washington, D.C.-based economist and chairman of the Global Solutions Summit, an international consulting firm. “You have all of these people in Austin who are running events and they’re hiring caterers for sandwiches and refreshments,” he said. “You have independent contractors like videographers and photographers, sound-equipment suppliers, Uber and Lyft drivers, hairstylists, and even freelance entertainment journalists — all of whom are no longer making money. For these entrepreneurs,” he added, “losing this event is a little like retailers missing out on the Christmas season. It’s when they make their money.”
The airline, travel, leisure, and tourism industries are in free-fall. Major cruise lines suspended bookings and cut short voyages after horrific reports of coronavirus outbreaks among passengers trapped at sea, temporarily putting a $38 billion industry in dry dock.
The conventions industry, which has come to a standstill after wholesale cancellations, remains a vastly under-appreciated sector of the U.S. economy, argues George Brennan, former executive vice-president of marketing at Arlington (Va.)-based Interstate Hotels and Resorts, the world’s largest independent hotel management company.
These mass gatherings are an unheralded engine of growth, he says, packing a bigger economic wallop than they get credit for. “Conventions typically draw anywhere from 2,000 to 25,000 people,” he said. “They run 6,000 to 8,000 attendees on average, and most can only be accommodated by the top 10-20 U.S. cities, which include Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New Orleans and Orlando.
“Conventions are often multi-dimensional,” he added. “Attendees usually spend three to five days in town. They often shop at clothing stores and other retailers. They’ll take in sporting events or, if they’re in New York, a Broadway play. They’ll go to attractions like the San Diego Zoo, or spend an afternoon on a golf course in Florida or California.”
Conventions generate a tremendous amount of commerce and revenues for vendors and exhibitors. As an example, Brennan cites his former employer, the hospitality industry. “At hotel conventions,” he said, “you’ll see people there selling curtains and sheets, soaps and towels.”
In addition, many trade groups – Brennan cites the National Association of Civil Engineers and the American Medical Association as examples – count on the annual convention as an important component of their organization’s annual revenues. “When you pay to attend,” he says, “a significant portion goes back to the association. The convention often covers the yearly salary for a group’s staff.”
Amid the dramatic behavioral changes, the stock market registered several days of panic-selling in March, capped by a record, single-day plunge on March 16: The Dow Jones index plummeted 2,997 points, the third-worst percentage loss in history. After flirting with the level at which the Dow was reading on Inauguration Day Jan. 20, 2017, the market continued see-sawing this week, herky-jerkying between mini-rallies and skids.
Hoping to prevent a coronavirus recession, the U.S. Senate adopted by an overwhelming, 90-8 bipartisan vote a $100 billion bill sent by the Democraticac-led House that expands free testing for the coronavirus, provides for paid sick leave and medical leave for some workers, and an emergency unemployment insurance and food assistance programs. The bill was signed late Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Congress was taking up a monumental $1 trillion economic rescue plan proposed by the White House on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) that included a bailout for the hotel and airline industries, help for small businesses, and $500 billion in direct cash payments to Americans households.
“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a Rose Garden press conference at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day. By immediately, he added, “I’m talking about the next two weeks.”
The Trump Administration’s proposed help for small businesses has a strong supporter in Karen G. Mills, former SBA administrator and senior fellow at Harvard Business School. During her tenure in the Obama Administration, Mills was a troubleshooter in several crises including the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy. “In a worst-case scenario with this virus contagion, getting loans to people through banks is not going to be fast enough,” she told deBanked just before the White House drew up its rescue plan. “They’ll need direct loans to people and other aid. If we lose our small business economy, it will be catastrophic.”
So how will the pandemic and the state of the economy play out politically in the November, 2020 general election between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee? The result remains shrouded in the fog of the future, of course, but the election’s contours are coming into focus.
Having seen him through numerous scandals, impeachment, and a trial in the U.S. Senate, Trump’s political and electoral following has been put to the test. Yet his backers remain unshakably loyal in a way not seen in 80 years, observed the University of Houston’s Murray. “More people are dug in now than at any time since the 1930s,” he says, as roughly 43% of the electorate is firmly lodged in Trump’s camp. “Trump’s support has been remarkably stable.”
The business community is a key demographic in the pro-Trump cohort, notes Ray Keating, chief economist at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group claiming 100,000 members. “We have not polled our membership,” Keating says, “but when you look at the data they overwhelmingly vote Republican. We find that support for Donald Trump is clear and substantial.”
Richard Yukes, a Las Vegas-based oilman and longtime entrepreneur who votes his pocketbook, will be pulling the lever for Trump in the November election. The reason? Trump not only presided over a robust economy for the past several years, Yukes says, but the president slashed Obama-era regulations imposed on his industry. “Government regulation and bureaucratic regulation often get mishandled and misdirected by federal bureaucrats and Trump is for less regulation,” Yukes says. “I think America works best with less regulation.”
The owner and operator of oil wells in Wyoming, Yukes benefited handsomely last year when Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency relaxed rules governing methane leaks. The oilman reckons that complying with the regulations had been costing him an extra $1,500 per well each year.
No matter how well the economy has performed in the past three years, however, the pandemic economy promises to be a “game-changer,” says political scientist Murray, and history shows that voters are likely to take stern measure of the incumbent president’s performance during any a crisis.
Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus reminds Murray of Woodrow Wilson’s reaction to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 while World War I was still raging. “As the U.S. was approaching climactic battles in Europe, President Wilson suppressed the news of the flu and the story didn’t get out though eventually people knew about it,” Murray says.
Wilson’s deceit hurt Democratic candidates who were battered in the 1918 midterm elections, just a few days before the November 11 armistice. Two years later, after Wilson had a stroke, the Democratic presidential candidate got crushed in the 1920 election by Warren G. Harding, a Republican senator from Ohio.
After war and influenza, Americans voted enthusiastically for Harding’s promise of “normalcy.”
President Trump pledged to support SBA lending through ramped-up low interest loans to small businesses that are suffering or may suffer from a decline in business due to recent public health fears. Additionally the President says that he will make or ask Congress to impose a degree of tax relief to those affected.
More information about the plans will be published as they become available. The President’s speech was made at 9pm EST in which he announced broad preventative and relief measures including a 30-day ban from all European travelers (excluding the UK).
Earlier this week, Alan Hayon had a challenge – to get a merchant above a 500 FICO score in order to make them eligible for small business funding. Within 30 minutes, Hayon increased the merchant’s personal FICO score by 59 points, getting them above 500. And the deal funded the following day. Hayon is the founder and CEO of The Credit Desk, a credit repair company in Long Island, and he used Experian Boost to get the merchant’s score up. It’s a brand new product from Experian that allows you to add and get credit for bills you have been paying on time, like gas, electricity, water, TV, internet and phone.
What used to take two to three weeks is now instantaneous with Experian Boost, according to Hayon. And the potential ramifications for small business funding are quite astounding. John Celifarco of Horizon Financial Group, a brokerage in New York, said that he had never heard of credit repair happening so quickly and that if it actually works, it could revolutionize the industry.
“Every deal could move up a grade,” Celifarco said. “This could have huge effects not just on the low end. You could jump someone from mid to high credit.”
Hayon conceded that it’s much harder to get a credit score up to, say 650, very quickly. That is harder and takes a little more time. Still, the new Experian Boost product means the ability to cross a FICO score minimum threshold and move a merchant from unfundable to fundable, almost immediately.
“It’s a positive domino effect,” Hayon said of Experian Boost, and what follows. “Then they can pay their credit card bills, get caught up with vendors and improve their credit further.”
This practice, often called “rapid rescoring,” has been used in the mortgage industry for years, according to Daniel Dias, owner of Small Business Lending Source, a brokerage in San Diego. Dias said that the rapid rescoring of a FICO score for someone applying for a mortgage can take as little as a day. Pretty fast. But for his clients, which are small businesses, he always tells them to wait at least 30 days to see an increase – from 20 to 60 points – in their score. By complete chance, when asked who he directs his clients to for credit repair, he said it was Hayon. Merchants pay Hayon directly, not via the broker.
In Celifarco’s experience, credit repair generally takes three to six months, which is usually too long for the merchant to wait to improve their FICO score. So he approaches credit repair a little differently. He advises his merchants to seek credit repair services after their first funding. This way, they can improve their credit and get a better rate the second time they go for funding.
Cory Petitte, who has worked both as a broker and a funder in South Florida, cautioned against inflating FICO scores in a way that misrepresents the merchant.
“I want to make sure the merchant can handle the payment,” he said.
He thinks that rapid rescoring is not a good practice and drew parallels to the 2008 mortgage crisis.
“You had mortgages that really weren’t A paper. [Instead,] they were B, C and D paper that were being represented as A paper.”
Furthermore, he said that he has spoken to underwriter who have told him they can sometimes tell when a FICO has been rapidly rescored.
A recent survey conducted by LendingTree found that more than half of Americans cannot cover a $1,000 emergency with cash or savings. Forty-eight percent of Americans say they could handle a $1,000 emergency expense by using cash or savings in their bank accounts.
Of the those Americans who could not handle a $1,000 emergency, whether it be a health issue or an urgent home repair, 16 percent said they would borrow from friends or family. Nine percent said they would sell something, another nine percent said they would use a credit card, seven percent said they would work more, and six percent said they would get a loan or paycheck advance.
Additionally, according to the report, six out of 10 Americans have had an emergency in the past year that cost them $1,000 or more and one-third of Americans are currently in debt from an emergency expense they could not afford cover. Of Americans who had to go into debt to cover a past emergency, one-third still owe $5,000 or more for this expense and about 18 percent have emergency debt balances of $10,000 or more.
LendingTree also announced at the end of last week that it has reached an agreement to acquire ValuePenguin for a total consideration of $105 million. ValuePenguin presents consumers and business owners with loan alternatives. In October, LendingTree acquired QuoteWizard.com, an insurance comparison marketplace, rounding out LendingTree as a more full financial advisory company.
“We are thrilled to add ValuePenguin’s talented team and expertise to our portfolio,” said Doug Lebda, Founder and CEO of LendingTree. “Our recent QuoteWizard acquisition was our first step toward leadership in insurance customer acquisition. Adding ValuePenguin’s high-quality content and SEO capability to QuoteWizard’s proprietary technology and carrier network will set us apart and enable us to provide immense value to carriers and agents. Both businesses will benefit from LendingTree’s strong brand and extensive marketing capabilities. We are in a great position to achieve further scale in the insurance space as well as the broader financial services industry.”