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Fewer Consumer Loans are Being Paid Late: Survey

Late payments for most types of consumer loans decreased in the final quarter of last year, a new industry survey shows.

Loans that were 30 days or more past due fell in proportion to overall loans in eight of 11 categories tracked by the American Bankers Association's quarterly Consumer Credit Delinquency Bulletin. But housing-related loans showed mixed results -- a sign that the housing market still lags the spreading economic recovery.

The Associated Press on Tuesday obtained an early copy of the survey, which is due to be released Wednesday.

Modest job gains and improved consumer spending in recent weeks reflect new life in the economy, many economists believe.

The decline in loan delinquencies is part of that trend, said ABA chief economist James Chessen. He called the survey's numbers "a very positive and hopeful sign."

"Clearly, consumers are shoring up their finances and banks are putting losses behind them," Chessen said in a statement. "Overall, there is a prudent approach to credit."

Delinquencies on credit cards issued by banks fell substantially. Consumers were late on 4.39 percent of the card payments, down from 4.77 the previous quarter.

Delinquencies also fell on loans for boats, RVs, mobile homes and home improvement.

Home equity lines of credit also were more likely to be marked current: Delinquent loans made up 2.04 percent of the money lent, down from 2.12 percent.

Delinquencies on auto loans from dealers held steady at 3.15 percent. And delinquency rates rose for home equity loans and non-card revolving loans.

Even in categories where delinquencies fell, they remained well above historical averages. A composite index of delinquencies across all categories fell to 3.19 percent from 3.23 percent for the quarter. Before the fourth quarter of 2008, the number had never exceeded 2.9 percent in the 20 years for which data are available.

Chessen said delinquencies will likely remain above historical averages as long as unemployment remains high. Despite modest job gains in March, unemployment remained unchanged at 9.7 percent.

"It's still a very stressful time for many families and this won't disappear until more people have jobs," he said.

Chessen said he expects delinquencies to remain high for the next several quarters.