I'm not sure whether you'd call this good news or bad news, but consumers are finding it slightly harder to borrow money. That sounds bad if you're broke. But it's good if it keeps you from digging too deep a hole for yourself.

The loans are still there. But you have more hoops to jump through -- especially if you want to open a home-equity line of credit. Your income will be more carefully checked. You may not be allowed to borrow quite as much as was available last year.

The strung-out economy has reached even the most blinkered banker. Personal bankruptcies are at a 10-year high. The volume of car repossessions is up. In the third quarter of 1989, consumer-credit delinquencies also stood at a decade high, spurred by slower payments on home-equity loans.

''The paradox of the 1980s was the coexistence of visible prosperity with invisible rot,'' says James Grant, editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer and long-time infidel in the temple of debt. His working hypothesis is that ''credit- worthiness will regain its economic franchise {and} a bull market in financial safety will begin.''

The average maturity of new auto loans is down to 51 months, from 53 months last year, according to the Consumer Bankers Association. The Federal Reserve reports that commercial banks are lending an average of only 88 percent against new cars, compared with 92 percent last year.

In February, the Federal Reserve asked the senior lending officers of 60 large commercial banks how they were handling their home-equity lines of credit. Nearly one-third have tightened their credit standards, one- fourth are appraising houses more conservatively and nearly one-fifth aren't lending as much against homes as they used to.

You can read these changes in the lending practices of New England's Connecticut National bank. The down payment on a $15,000 auto loan is now 20 percent, up from 10 percent last year. Home-equity lines of credit can't exceed 75 percent of the house's value (minus the first mortgage), down from 80 percent last year.

Once a year, the bank checks its borrowers' credit histories to see if anyone is behind on money owed to other lenders. If so, those borrowers go on the bank's own watch list. Not surprisingly, the bank is approving fewer loans than it did a year ago.

In Atlanta, the Citizens & Southern National Bank is limiting home-equity loans to borrowers who depend on chancy commission income -- for example, real-estate brokers. Loans are also less generous in rural areas, where property values are sagging. And the unceasing waves of layoffs have sharpened the bank's appreciation of borrowers who have job stability and a lot of net worth.

But the loan squeeze is strictly at the margin: for borrowers whose income is lagging, who are already carrying a lot of debt, whose companies are on the skids, who are recently self-employed or who live where house prices are soft. They may still be able to borrow money, but not as much.

Some banks have been allowing debt payments as high as 43 percent of your monthly gross income. Many now are cutting back to 36 percent or 40 percent.

If you're truly creditworthy, loans are readily available everywhere. Banks are eager for your business as loan opportunities in business and real-estate decline. Where house prices are strengthening -- Oregon, for example -- mortgage lenders are even moving toward smaller down payments, like 5 percent. We're starting to see credit in the pre-1980s sense -- loans only for people who can repay.