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Lisa Abramowicz

The Consumer Debt Blind Spot

A surprising decline in repayments and creditworthiness calls models into question.
Photographer: Pool/Getty Images

It's unsettling that a growing number of Americans are falling behind on their auto-loan and credit-card bills. But it's even more unnerving that analysts seem somewhat surprised by the pace and scope of late payments and losses.

Consider private-label credit card company Alliance Data Systems, for example. It reported this week a "dramatic drop" in recovery rates in April, which led research firm Compass Point to question what the lender "may be doing operationally to create so much more volatility in recoveries than its peers," Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, lenders including Santander Consumer USA and Ally Financial have been hit by a surprisingly steep deterioration in consumer creditworthiness. Their share prices have slumped this year as they set aside more money than expected to cover loan losses and update forecasts to include deeper declines in used car resale values.