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Average credit card debt per borrower falls in 3Q

Wednesday, 20 Nov 2013 | 7:22 AM ET
Robert Llewellyn | Photolibrary | Getty Images

More Americans fell behind on their credit card payments in the third quarter, when many consumers traditionally hit stores for back-to-school supplies.

Even so, the national late-payment rate remained close to its lowest level in six years, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Wednesday.

The rate of credit card payments at least 90 days overdue rose in the July-September quarter to 1.36 percent from the previous three-month period, when it was 1.27 percent—the lowest level on records going back to 2007, the firm said.

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The third-quarter card delinquency rate was down from 1.50 percent in the same period last year, however.

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"The credit card delinquency rate typically rises in the third quarter, partly because of back-to-school spending," said Toni Guitart, director of research and consulting at TransUnion's financial services business unit.

That's expected to happen again in the current quarter, as many consumers hit stores for the holiday season and then put off payments on their credit cards until early next year.

TransUnion projects the credit card delinquency rate will increase to around 1.48 percent in the fourth quarter.

Since 2007, the late-payment rate on credit cards has averaged about 2.2 percent, TransUnion said. The firm draws its figures from data culled from virtually every U.S. consumer who uses credit.

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Many Americans remain reluctant to take on high-interest credit card debt after taking steps to increase savings and pay down balances during the Great Recession.

Card balances have been dropping over the past year and remain near historically low levels.

In the third quarter, credit card debt per borrower fell 1.3 percent versus the same quarter last year to $5,235. It was essentially flat compared to the previous quarter, TransUnion said.

Slow, though steady, job growth and small wage gains have made many Americans more reluctant to charge goods and services.

Americans cut back on using their credit cards in September for the fourth straight month, according to the Federal Reserve.

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Consumers increased their borrowing by $13.7 billion to a seasonally adjusted $3.05 trillion, but the increase was driven entirely by higher borrowing for auto and student loans, which rose $15.8 billion. Credit card debt fell $2.1 billion.

The string of declines in credit card debt will likely hold back consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

Meanwhile, the number of new credit card accounts opened by consumers increased 6 percent to 11.1 million in the second quarter from a year earlier. The data lag by a quarter, so the latest TransUnion figures cover the April-June period.

While the numbers indicate lenders are signing up more borrowers to new credit cards accounts, the new signups are well short of the pace before the 2008 financial crisis. In the second quarter of 2007, new card originations totaled 17.7 million, TransUnion said.

By The Associated Press

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