Financial health reflects residents’ ability to manage their daily finances, be resilient to economic shocks, and pursue opportunities for upward mobility. Credit health is an important component of overall financial health, in addition to savings, income, and wealth. During economic crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, financially healthy residents can better weather the storm, help stabilize city finances, and contribute to economic recovery. But financial health, like economic recovery, is unevenly distributed across racial and economic groups. And advancing inclusion through financial health requires intentional policies and actions.
Using credit bureau and alternative financial services data on over 5 million US adults with a credit file from 2010-2020, we find that:
- Credit health among Chicago residents—measured by changes in credit scores, credit use, and delinquencies—improved after the Great Recession and into COVID-19 as of October 2020. These trends suggest choices by federal, state, and local policymakers and private-sector partners to help families weather the impacts of COVID-19 are making a difference in their credit health.
- Disparities by race illustrate that the last economic recovery failed to adequately address systemic barriers facing families of color. The share of Chicago residents in communities of color with subprime credit scores (39.5 percent) is nearly 4 times higher than in majority-white communities in the city (10.9 percent). Without sustained support and intentional policies that address racial barriers, the economic impacts of COVID-19 could create major setbacks on the pathway to inclusive economic recovery.
- Credit health is one component of financial health; while credit measures improved, other data point to increased food insecurity, employment income loss, and other hardships, indicating an uneven recovery. Credit data cannot capture the experiences of about one in ten US adults who do not have a credit file, and people of color are disproportionately represented in this group. Credit data also do not reflect residents’ ability to make timely payments once loan forbearance and other protections end, since reporting requirements make qualifying loans that were current before borrowers sought accommodations appear current during forbearance. Even residents with strong credit health may face challenges if underlying financial circumstances—income and savings—have not improved. Assessing the state of resident's incomes, savings, and other assets will be important for understanding the full impact of COVID-19 on financial health.