The Good And Bad of Credit Cards

Major retailers and card companies are reporting credit card data for October...with mixed results.

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The good news: charge-offs (loans unlikely to be recovered) improved at big names like Capital One , Bank of America and Discover .

The bad news: delinquencies—loans 30 days or more past due, but not written off—got slightly worse.

This wasn't supposed to happen—delinquencies (which have been high by historic standards) should be dropping if the consumer is getting healthier.

If this trend keeps up, it may require companies to set aside more money to build reserves against future losses.

The X factor here is unemployment--if it stays high well into 2010, consumer spending will remain weak, and that means higher delinquency rates for credit card companies…and little or no topline growth for retailers...and a lot of other companies.

One other point: it appears loans are continuing to decline. Loans at Capital One, for example, were down 2 percent month over month; some of this is undoubtedly due to light demand, but some may also may be due to tighter lending standards.

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