Americans shaved nearly $200 billion from their bank credit card balances since 2009, according to figures released this month by credit reporting agency Equifax. The company's National Consumer Credit Trends Report tracked the 28 percent drop in credit card debt from a peak of $730 billion in January 2009. Meanwhile, the country's available bank card credit limits increased by 6.6 percent from a year ago, to $2.4 trillion.
Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts told reporters that the rebalancing in consumer debt has led to a new wave of credit card offers. "This increased consumer credit activity bodes well for U.S. economic growth through the second half of 2012," Crews Cutts said. Between February 2011 and February 2012, average credit limits on American bank cards rose to $4,784. Banks issued 37 percent more new credit cards in February compared with a year earlier.
Balance transfer offers luring retail credit card customers
The surge in bank-issued credit cards has led to a flight from retail credit cards, as many Americans close unused accounts or take advantage of balance transfer deals. Though retail store credit card balances remained flat between 2011 and 2012, the number of revolving retail accounts has only grown by 4.7 percent during the same period. Open retail accounts had declined by 22 percent in the two previous years, marking slower recovery in the consumer retail credit space. Americans maintain more than 173 million retail credit card accounts.
Credit card defaults remain low, despite surge in lending
Equifax researchers also said that credit card charge-offs reached 5 percent in April, more than half the 12 percent peak reported in March 2010. The credit reporting agency indicated that fewer than 1 percent of Americans saw their active credit cards "roll" into a 30-day-late status during April. Researchers used the agency's database of more than 500 milllion consumer credit reports to compile their statistics.