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Credit card delinquencies remain at historic lows

By , CardRatings contributor
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Credit card balances keep creeping up, but researchers from TransUnion say they're still a far cry from pre-recession levels. While Americans carry more debt, their stronger financial habits have shown a five percent decrease in the number of delinquent credit card accounts, according to the credit reporting agency's year-over-year statistics.

TransUnion's Trend Data anonymized 27 million credit reports to come up with their statistics, which show delinquent accounts making up just 0.78 percent of surveyed accounts in the fourth quarter of 2011. The figure dipped from 0.82 percent during the same period in 2010, but marks an almost 10 percent increase from the 0.71 percent figure measured during 2011's third quarter. The average credit card debt per borrower rose $442 to $5,204 during that period.

In a statement to reporters, TransUnion officials suggested the short-term gain reflects seasonal shopping and employment conditions. In fact, company officials wrote, "TransUnion forecasts that credit card borrower delinquency rates could continue to drift upward in the short term." Yet, even if the ripple effect of busted holiday budgets and unexpected job cuts could drive figures from 2012's first quarter even higher, those numbers will likely remain at their historic lows.

Most responsible credit card usage since 1995

The last time this few Americans fell behind on credit card payments, Bill Clinton was in the White House and Michael Douglas was portraying "The American President" on the big screen. According to TransUnion spokesman Ezra Becker, credit card issuers have spent the past few years competing for the least risky borrowers, while purging their portfolios of defaulted balances.

During the same time, Americans have changed their own financial habits, paying down more of their credit card balances each month. Becker cites these "consumer deleveraging efforts" as a signal that banks may start issuing more credit cards for fair credit borrowers, instead of focusing solely on the least risky segments of the population.

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