Banks Take Billions From TARP, but Give Fewer Loans

"Our decision to lend must go beyond traditional FICO scores. We look at very predictable risk indicators of default such as increased overall debt burden, an individual's payment history including the size of payments they are making, and higher levels of revolving credit. Specific calculations are considered proprietary," wrote Lisa Westermann, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo in an e-mail.

"We approve a loan only when we believe the borrower can repay it under the original terms. All our lending decisions are based on doing what is best for our customers, our company and investors," she wrote.

The banks' ability and likelihood to make loans is not just important for individuals and businesses, but for the economy as a whole. The level of lending is important for determining the pace with which the economy will rebound.

Though the figures the Journal analyzed came from the Treasury Department, the paper's conclusions contrast with the evolving picture of lending that has trickled out of the government since the beginning of the bailout last autumn. According to the paper, Treasury "crunches data in a way that some experts say understates the lending decline."

TARP's Watchmen

The Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP, an independent agency, says it's crunching Treasury's figures and will release its finding next month.

"We are looking at this because one ostensible purpose of TARP was to jump start lending," said panel spokesman Caleb Weaver. "We're looking at whether lending has decreased. We don't know yet."

Neil Barofsky, Treasury's special investigator assigned to keep an eye on how the TARP funds are being spent, said the bailout let banks lend more than they would have been able to otherwise, but has not increased lending the way some hoped.

"A lot of banks have indicated that because they received the TARP funds, they were able to maintain or not reduce lending as much as they would have otherwise," Barofsky said. "And that really goes to the fundamental question of what is the goal of the program. If the goal of the program was to increase lending, well obviously lending has not increased."

That the banks are able to lend and just not lending to him is little consolation of Spellman, who says his daughter will have withdraw from the nursing program at her university if he cannot secure a $5,000 loan to pay for this summer's semester.

"I've already spent all the money -- I spent my whole life saving to send my daughter to college. I don't care what it costs to send her. She's my only child and I want what's best for her." Additional reporting by ABC News' Alice Gomstyn and Matt Jaffe.

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