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NEW YORK – When a major bank’s credit rating is downgraded, it takes a psychological hit – to customers, the public and the financial markets.

So Thursday’s downgrade of 15 of the world’s largest banks is almost sure to cause great concern. Most deposits are perfectly safe, but downgrades could hurt people in more subtle ways: Banks can raise fees and be reluctant to lend, which could affect mortgages, credit cards, and even the job market.

“It’s normal that the first thing people care about is whether their money is safe,” said Jim Nadler, chief operating officer of the Kroll Bond rating agency. “But the real costs can be hidden.”

Bank deposits up to $ 250,000 are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But the downgrades come at a difficult time for banks. An avalanche of new regulations passed after the financial crisis wiped out many of the fees charged on credit cards and checking accounts. Banks are also prohibited from making lucrative bets in the stock and bond markets, thus wiping out billions of dollars in trading revenue.

So banks are now collecting income wherever they can. Basic services that were once free now cost money. Checking accounts can cost $ 8, a bank statement $ 3, voiding a check $ 2. The list goes on.

In light of the lower ratings, existing fees could increase further and new ones could emerge.

“The banks are going to find a way to extract income from the client in any way,” said Stanley JG Crouch, chief investment officer at fund manager Aegis Capital.

The best rating agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch – have immense influence over how much every business and every state or local government pays to borrow money. They assign marks on a scale that determines the ability of these entities to repay their debt.

Downgrades could potentially increase the cost of borrowing for banks in financial markets, as investors will charge more interest when they lend money to banks.

With interest rates nearing record lows, most analysts say the cost of borrowing will not be affected immediately. However, if ratings stay at these levels and interest rates rise, banks will pay dearly.

For now, investors are not worried. Shares of downgraded banks rose on Friday. Bank of America gained 1.5%, while JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley each rose 1.3%.

Downgrades also suck capital from banks. This is because all the big banks sell insurance to investors to protect them from losses on bonds in the event of default.

The downgrades will force banks to set aside billions of dollars in additional reserves because the debt they insure has suddenly become riskier. Each step in the rating scale triggers automatic demands for the additional money a bank must set aside in its reserves.

Because of these requirements, downgrades will put money into reserves and reduce the amount of capital that banks have to lend.

Americans will experience this when they go to their banks for mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards.

Already these credit markets are extremely tight.

Since the financial crisis and the bursting of the real estate bubble, banks have become very demanding when it comes to credit. During the housing boom, banks granted mortgages without checking to see if people were employed, if their income was real, and without taking any money up front.

Today, millions of first-time buyers struggle to qualify for home loans unless they have exceptional credit, a stable work history, and at least 20% of the home loan in cash. Experts say downgrades will make it difficult for banks to provide much relief to less qualified homebuyers.

The number of credit cards issued by banks has also dropped dramatically as they will not issue cards to people with poor credit. Credit reporting agency TransUnion estimated that more than 8 million people left the credit card market between 2009 and 2010.

“Banks are a good source of a lot of low-cost loans, like auto loans, and I’m worried those avenues are narrowing,” Nadler said.

Small and medium-sized businesses, which typically account for a large portion of hiring across the country, will feel the impact even more. They depend heavily on banks for loans to finance their operations, as they do not have access to financial markets to get into debt in the same way as large well-known companies such as McDonald’s or Coca-Cola.

Since the financial crisis, small businesses have complained of difficulty in obtaining bank loans. Now there will be even fewer loans to exploit and fewer jobs to add.

Americans who invest in bond funds will feel the effects of the downgrades in their quarterly returns. Many pension funds and large mutual funds have rules that do not allow them to invest in bonds that are rated below a certain level. They will be forced to sell these bonds even if it means a loss.

Ultimately, that takes away any advantages that banks have over other financial companies, said Andrew Ang, professor of finance at Columbia Business School.

“Banks have less capital to get the best innovations,” Ang said. “So if you have a lot of money, why even go to the bank?” “