For the first time in a decade, more people paid their credit card bills on time in the third quarter this year than in the second quarter.
The delinquency rate on bank-issued cards like those bearing MasterCard and Visa logos fell to 1.1 percent for the June-to-September period, from a rate of 1.17 percent in the prior three months, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion.
The 6 percent drop is significant not just for its size but also for its timing, since delinquency rates usually rise in the third quarter from the prior period, said Ezra Becker of TransUnion's financial services group.
Taken together with the more than 11 percent decline seen between the first and second quarters, the results indicate that consumers are getting better at handling their debt.
The 2009 third-quarter delinquency rate was basically flat with the 2008 third quarter, when 1.09 percent of card payments were 90 days or more past due.
TransUnion measures credit card delinquencies at 90 days because three months is considered an indicator that the card holder will default, since it is difficult to make up that many missed payments.
Credit card delinquencies were highest in Nevada (1.98 percent), Florida (1.47 percent), Arizona (1.35 percent) and California (1.33 percent), the states hardest hit by the housing crisis.
Rates were lowest in North Dakota (0.66 percent) and South Dakota (0.70 percent).
TransUnion figures showed the average balance on outstanding bank cards drifted down to $5,612 from the previous quarter's $5,719, and from $5,710 in the 2008 third quarter.