Journal of Credit Risk

From incurred loss to current expected credit loss: a forensic analysis of the allowance for loan losses in unconditionally cancelable credit card portfolios

José Canals-Cerdá

The current expected credit loss (CECL) framework represents a new approach for calculating the allowance for credit losses. Credit cards are the most common form of revolving consumer credit and will likely present conceptual and modeling challenges during CECL implementation. Starting with 2008, we look back over nine years of account-level credit card data: a time period encompassing the bulk of the Great Recession as well as several years of economic recovery. We analyze the performance of the CECL framework under plausible assumptions about allocations of future payments to existing credit card loans, a key implementation element. Our analysis focuses on three major themes: defaults, balances and credit loss. Our analysis indicates that allowances are significantly affected by specific payment allocation assumptions as well as downturn economic conditions. We also compare projected allowances with realized credit losses and observe a significant divergence resulting from the revolving nature of credit card portfolios. We extend our analysis across segments of the portfolio with different risk profiles. Interestingly, less risky segments of the portfolio are more affected by specific payment assumptions and downturn economic conditions. Our analysis also finds that the impact of macroeconomic forecast error can be substantial and can be affected by CECL implementation design features. Overall, our findings suggest that the effect of the new allowance framework on a specific credit card portfolio will depend critically on its risk profile. Thus, our findings should be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Finally, we aim to gain a better understanding of the sensitivity of allowances to plausible variations in assumptions about the allocation of future payments to present credit card loans. Thus, we do not offer specific best practice guidance.

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