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Credit Card Use Dipped in March

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Consumers nationwide have changed their general attitudes toward debt since the end of the recent recession, and while many continue to take on certain types of credit, they have largely been able to reduce their credit card balances significantly.

The trend of falling credit card debt had not been observed in the few months prior to March, but in that final month of the first quarter, obligations on those accounts fell 2.4 percent, according to the latest consumer credit data released monthly by the Federal Reserve Board. As a result, the total combined amount of money owed on credit cards nationwide stands at $846.2 billion, down from $847.9 billion in February, but up slightly from the $845.8 billion observed at the end of last year.

Through the end of February, interest rates on these accounts were up somewhat from their position at the close of last year, the report said. The average interest rate applied to all credit card accounts rose to 11.93 percent from 11.88 percent, while those for accounts assessed interest climbed to 13.01 percent from 12.81 percent.

At the same time as consumers slashed credit card debt, they took on far more credit related to installment loans, not including mortgages, the report said. In all, the amount of debt owed on this non-revolving credit rose 5.9 percent to a total of more than $1.96 trillion, up from the slightly more than $1.95 trillion observed in February, when these balances surged 11.3 percent. As a result, total consumer credit spiked 3.4 percent in March, rising to a total of nearly $2.81 trillion.

Much of the increase in installment loan debts came again from consumers relying on the federal government to help them finance their college educations, the report said. Student loans typically make up a large portion of non-revolving debt, and in March rose some $3.9 billion to a total of $560.8 billion overall. At the end of the first quarter of 2012, these balances accounted for just $452.6 billion in consumer loan debt.

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