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Fixed: Bank of America Corp’s Biggest Problem

Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC  ) past is ugly. Recently, fellow Fool John Maxfield pointed out that mortgages weren't its only problem.

Its credit card business also proved lackluster during the financial crisis, resulting in billions of dollars in losses.

But is the Bank of America today just as reckless?

A look at the credit card portfolio
Taking the credit card portfolio in isolation, let's look at what I believe to be a very important metric in understanding Bank of America's credit card exposure: FICO scores.

  • Second quarter of 2009: 17% of Bank of America's credit card portfolio is attributed to borrowers with a FICO score of less than 620.
  • Third quarter of 2009: 17% of Bank of America's credit card portfolio is attributed to borrowers with a FICO score of less than 620.
  • Fourth quarter of 2010: 12.4% of Bank of America's American credit card portfolio is attributed to borrowers with a FICO score of less than 620.

Fast-forward to today:

  • First quarter of 2014: 5.4% of Bank of America's U.S. credit card balances are attributed to borrowers with a FICO score of less than 620. More than 80% of borrowers have a FICO score above 680.
What happened? A combination of events. Balances were charged off and accounts were closed, separating the bank from lower-quality borrowers. In the meantime, Bank of America began issuing new cards only to creditworthy borrowers.

A change in underwriting
The "old" Bank of America was a terrible credit card underwriter. We know that from the losses on historical income statements, and from CEO Brian Moynihan's own admission.

But, looking forward, I think it's safe to say Bank of America is underwriting better-quality borrowers today than in the past. This shift took hold in 2009, when the bank reported underwriting new credits who had an average FICO of 773.

This isn't to suggest that Bank of America won't revert to poor underwriting once again. Rather, it's just a suggestion that, at least for now, the credit card book likely looks nothing like it did years ago. Barring any rapid change in the reported FICO statistics, losses through a cycle should be much lower from today's book of credit card receivables than those during the financial crisis.

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Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 04, 2014, at 9:01 PM, funfundvierzig wrote:

    Bank of America's biggest problem is an outstandingly mediocre Management, which has not been fixed. CEO Brian Moynihan is a long-time veteran with the Bank, there since 2004 and a key player in the major decisions and strategies of the Bank for the past decade. Most of Moynihan's under-bosses are veteran Bank executives as well. In addition, the bumbling Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank of America Corp., Chad O. Holliday, Jr. ex-Chief of the now much shrunken and degraded DuPont Company, has been accurately and amusingly described by well-known Wall Street bank analyst, Mike Mayo, as "a figurehead with no banking experience".


  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 12:09 AM, sluggo47 wrote:

    FF once again your silly comments appear on every BAC article on the web. I don't know what Mr. Moynihan did to you but you need a good dose of therapy to help you get over it.

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"The liabilities are always 100 percent good. It’s the assets you have to worry about." - Charlie Munger

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