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The credit gap continues to widen, and it’s showing up in Americans’ credit card limits. According to the latest Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence reports, a quarterly analysis of consumer credit trends, only people with top credit scores have watched their credit limits fully recover from the Great Recession.

Everyone else, including people with perfectly good scores, is lagging behind, the report found. The data appear to indicate that credit card issuers remain wary about most consumers’ financial health, extending more credit to those with the best financial histories but restricting credit for most others.

It is the second report in a month to indicate that just as the divide continues to widen between rich and poor Americans, there is a new divide between people with good and bad credit, as we covered here.

“We’re polarizing, and this is another example,” says Barry Paperno, Credit.com’s credit scoring expert.

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Free Tool: Credit Report CardThe report looks at VantageScores, which are graded on a scale from A through F. In the first quarter of 2012, consumers with A scores — the best possible — finally regained the credit limits they enjoyed four years ago.

It was a steep rebound. As recently as the third quarter of 2010, the average VantageScore for people with A scores had dropped to 80 percent of their pre-recession height.

Everyone else experienced similar declines in their credit limits, too, as card issuers tightened their lending reigns during the Great Recession. People with B VantageScores watch their average credit limits drop to 81 percent of their former high by early 2010.

Those consumers have made some modest gains since. In its latest report, Experian found that people with B VantageScores had their average credit limits increase slightly, to 86 percent of what they enjoyed in 2006.

For everyone else, however, the trend continues downward. People with scores of C and D had their credit limits continue to fall last quarter, Experian found, to around 70 percent of their former highs.

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But the most dramatic drop has been experienced by people with the lowest scores. Consumers with F VantageScores saw a sudden increase in their credit limits after the Great Recession hit, reaching 181 percent of their former limits by the middle of 2009. Since then, the trend has been steeply down. By the latest quarter, people with F scores had lost almost 20 percent of their 2006 credit limits.

“I think its fair to say that they’re still being conservative,” Paperno says of credit card issuers. “The credit is going to the people who already have great credit. Which leaves the rest of us paying higher rates, or not being approved.”

Image: red11group, via Flickr

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