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More Consumers Paying Down Debt

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The recent recession drastically changed the way consumers felt about and handled their outstanding debts, and the renewed attention to paying down their balances was reflected in the drops in loan delinquency over the course of 2011.

Consumers not only continued to cut their outstanding debt, but also made more conscientious efforts to make on-time payments last year, according to the latest National Credit Trends Report from the credit monitoring bureau Equifax. In all, the amount owed across all types of consumer debt slipped to $11.1 trillion, a drop of nearly 11 percent from the all-time high of $12.4 trillion in October 2008.

The most appreciable drops in consumer loan delinquency were, perhaps not surprisingly, observed in credit cards issued by banks, the report said. In all, the number of these accounts 60 days or more behind on their payments dropped by 29 percent during 2011. Meanwhile, 60-day delinquencies for credit cards issued by retailers fell by 15 percent.

This shift in consumer payment habits, as well as in consumers’ attitudes toward opening new accounts now that the economy is improving, has prompted both banks and retailers to begin issuing new accounts to consumers who might not have had access to them during and right after the recession. Origination of new credit cards issued by banks to subprime borrowers—who would not have been able to get a new account as recently as a few months prior to the start of 2011—climbed 48 percent overall, and were 22 percent higher in October than the same month a year prior, the report said. In addition, retailers saw four years of declines in new account origination reverse itself, as consumers opened 26.8 million cards between January and October, up 7 percent from 2010’s total.

“More than 63 percent of all past due balances are from loans originated between 2005 and 2007, and as the industry continues to isolate and manage those vintages, I would expect to see continued improvement in delinquency rates as a result,” said Michael Koukounas, senior vice president of analytics for Equifax.

The end of the year saw consumers’ outstanding credit card debt start to tick up for the first time in a while.

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