The nation’s largest bank, Citigroup, said today that it would begin lending money to consumers who have no credit history and no income documentation.
In a move that could help millions of Americans struggling to get loans, Citigroup said it would offer small-dollar loans to customers who do not meet traditional lending standards.
The announcement comes at a time when many banks are tightening their lending practices to avoid taking risks on borrowers with poor credit histories. But Citigroup, whose parent company is Citi Holdings Inc., said it was confident that its loan officers were well trained to assess risk and that they had the experience to make sound decisions about whom to lend to.
”We’re going to take a different approach,” said Michael E. O’Neill, chief executive of Citigroup. ”It’s a big bet.”
Mr. O’Neill added that he expected the program to expand rapidly, adding that Citigroup already had plans to start offering loans to students and first-time home buyers.
The decision by Citigroup to enter the market comes just weeks after regulators ordered Bank of America Corp. to stop making subprime mortgages. Other major lenders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have since followed suit.
But Citigroup officials said they did not expect the change in policy to hurt the bank’s bottom line.
”This is not a business we’ve ever done before,” Mr. O’Neill told reporters on a conference call. ”I think it’s a good thing for us.”
He said Citigroup was not planning to charge any fees for the loans, although some of the costs associated with processing the applications would be passed along to the customer.
The loans would be offered only to individuals with incomes below $75,000 and assets worth less than $100,000. In addition, applicants would need to provide proof of employment or recent rent payments.