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Credit Card Debt Grows Among Those With Poor Credit

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Consumers with low credit scores account for an increasingly large chunk of the nation’s credit card debt, with subprime borrowers carrying more than three times the average credit card debt held by consumers with excellent credit scores.

In the third quarter of 2013, the typical consumer had a credit card debt load of $4,061, according to the most recent data from Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports and Experian’s IntelliView tool. That’s down from the same time the previous year ($4,137), though outstanding credit card balances didn’t change much overall: In the third quarter of 2012, outstanding consumer credit card debt stood at $594 billion, and it increased year over year to $597 billion.

The data breaks down consumer credit tiers by VantageScore ranges: super prime (781-850), prime (661-780), near prime (601-660), subprime (500-600) and deep subprime (300-499). Near prime and subprime consumers have historically carried the highest average balances, but they rose in the third quarter, while average balances declined among consumers with super prime, prime and deep subprime credit. In fact, the bump in outstanding credit came from near prime and subprime consumers alone — the other groups’ balances dropped.

According to Credit.com’s recent Americans and Credit Card Debt survey, consumers plan on chipping away at their debt this year. Of the 2,223 respondents, 55% said they have at least some credit card debt (the amount varied widely, but the most common ranges were between $1,001 and $2,500; $2,501 and $5,000; and $5,001 and $10,000, each category with about 17% of responses). About two-thirds (68%) said it’s extremely likely they’ll start to pay their debt down this year, and 71% said they aren’t having trouble managing it.

It makes sense that near prime and subprime consumers have the highest average balances ($5,896 and $5,908, respectively), because debt use makes up a large part of credit scores — the more of your available credit you use, the lower your scores will be. (You can see how this and other things, like payment history and applying for new credit, impact your credit scores using free tools like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.)

Despite the climbing debt in those consumer groups, it’s good to see outstanding debt fall among those with the worst credit scores. Overall, Americans are improving their payment habits — payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit scores — as there was an 18% decline in serious delinquencies from the third quarter of 2012. In the third quarter of 2013, only 1.3% of credit cards were more than 90 days past due, and credit card charge-offs also decreased year over year.

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