Even good customers struggle to keep credit

February 26, 2009 5:48:56 PM PST
Many people these days are finding it difficult to obtain credit. Even good-paying customers are having to prove they are worthy to keep their existing credit.

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This is a reflection of how jittery the market is. A woman simply asks her lender about loan modification, and even though she takes no action, she's labeled a high risk and pays a big price.

Kathleen Davis lost her office job with United Airlines after 17 years of service. Suddenly the future looked awfully uncertain.

"In case I didn't find a job, what could I do about my first mortgage?" wondered Kathleen.

Kathleen wanted to protect her family home of 27 years. So she went to her mortgage lender, Alliant Credit Union, where she had done all her banking for the past 17 years.

"Basically what I asked for was is there any kind of a bridge that I could get until I started my new job," recalled Kathllen.

The credit union offered to let Kathleen refinance her home, but her payments would have gone up, not down. So she turned down the offer. Soon after, she had found a new job, no longer needed help and everything was fine -- or so she thought.

"I went to look at my online statement and noticed that here was a zero balance on this credit line," said Kathleen.

Four months after asking about her mortgage loan, the credit union suddenly shut down Kathleen's entire $100,000 home equity line of credit. It was money she and her family relied on to cover emergency expenses.

"They told me that because I asked for information and requested assistance, that that made me a risk," said Kathleen.

Kathleen couldn't believe she lost her credit line just for asking about debt relief. She says it was harsh because she never actually changed her loan and never missed a single payment, but only inquired about options.

"It was a 'what if' and I didn't need the 'what if,'" said Kathleen.

Consumer counselor Dan Parrish says even though credit unions are owned by the very people who use them, they are getting stricter with credit these days, just like banks.

"Even with the good-paying customers we still have to be extremely careful so that they don't get into further trouble based on something that might happen, you know, next month," said Parrish.

We contacted the credit union and it would not comment on Kathleen's particular case, citing privacy reasons. But it said, "if we are contacted by a member who is seeking payment relief on a loan, our policy is to review the credit line and evaluate the credit line for possible closure. We don't close lines arbitrarily or without cause.''

"It's frightening to think that that was pulled," said Kathleen. "If something did happen, if there was a disaster in my family, I don't know what we would do."

The credit union also says Kathleen can re-apply for her credit line. So far she isn't taking them up on it, partly because she'd probably pay higher interest. One thing she is doing is she's being more careful about asking questions at her bank.

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