The lending environment — from home and car loans to credit-card rates — is bound to get tougher, economic analysts say.
The crisis in the financial markets could make it even tougher to get loans to buy cars or houses — and the Federal Reserve didn’t make things any easier by declining to lower interest rates this week.
Experts say any hope of relief from the credit crunch — which had started to flicker as rates slipped down and homebuyers eased back into the market — has been dashed.
With the big financial houses in disarray, the market for home mortgages and other loans is shakier than ever.
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A rate cut by the Fed might have eased the problem by making it easier for businesses and individuals to get access to cash, but the decision to leave rates unchanged means that the mortgage market will not gain the extra flexibility that many had hoped for.
The lending environment — from home and car loans to credit-card rates — “definitely won’t get better in the short term and may get a little worse,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com, a personal-finance Web site.
It could prove difficult to extricate the economy from what might be a vicious circle: The housing crisis spurred the Wall Street crisis, but neither might be able to recover without the other.
“It’s one of those chicken-and-egg things,” said Edward Leamer, an economics forecaster at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The continued turmoil also means that consumers will continue to have difficulty affording — or financing — other large purchases, such as automobiles.
Whereas interest rates on cars loans, credit cards and some home mortgages are down from a year ago, lending standards have grown so tight that only people with the highest credit scores can obtain the loans. In some cases, even they have been turned down.
The difficulty faced by even qualified buyers could make already-dismal auto sales even worse, said Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors in Los Angeles.
“It doesn’t matter what the rate is if the customer can’t get the loan,” Boeckmann said.
Nationwide, automobile sales were down 15.5 percent last month from the previous year.
Government and industry officials have blamed the Wall Street meltdown on the housing crash and say housing needs to stabilize to stop the bleeding in the financial markets and the overall economy.
Fed rate cuts won’t make a difference as long as investors lack confidence in the mortgage markets, said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University, Channel Islands.
The recent rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has restored some faith, making interest rates relatively low.
But with the continuing instability in the financial markets, those low rates benefit only a relatively small pool of borrowers.
Consumers might have little choice in how to weather the storm.
Scott Leonard, a Redondo Beach, Calif., financial planner, said that those who are in trouble now are not likely to qualify for loans to refinance their homes or consolidate their bills — and won’t be able to until credit loosens, rates drop further and prices begin to rise.
“If you’re in a bad situation, I’d be surprised if you would be able to refinance [a home mortgage] now anyway,” he said.
If you are in difficult straits, don’t bother trying to finance big-ticket items with your credit cards or an auto loan, Leonard and others said, unless you are willing to pay high interest rates: The new, lower rates are only for those in the very best financial shape. A person with the median U.S. credit score of 723 would not qualify for the best interest rate.
“A couple of years ago they were giving credit like candy,” said McBride of Bankrate.com. “Now we’re a couple of years away from standards loosening up to find that middle ground.”