WASHINGTON — Consumers are getting better at keeping up with loan payments.
The portion of consumers with payments overdue on credit cards, auto loans and other debt dropped in the first three months of the year to the lowest level since 2007, according to the American Bankers Assn.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 07, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Consumer debts: An article in the July 4 Business section about consumer debt delinquencies said the percentage of consumer loans that were at least 30 days overdue had dropped in the first quarter of this year compared with the last quarter of 2012. The comparison was with the last quarter of 2011.
Overall, the percentage of consumer loans that were at least 30 days overdue fell to 2.35% in the January-through-March period, down from 2.49% in the last quarter of 2012. It was the best performance since the second quarter of 2007, and put consumer delinquencies below the 15-year average of 2.4%, the group said.
At the worst point during the Great Recession and its aftermath, about 3.35% of consumer loans were overdue.
"Consumers have done a remarkable job getting their finances under control," said James Chessen, chief economist for the American Bankers Assn. "Overall debt levels have declined dramatically and savings continues to grow. This means many consumers have more capacity to absorb a financial shock, and that's a good place to be."
The group's quarterly Consumer Credit Delinquency Bulletin tracks overdue payments in 11 categories. Ten of those categories showed improvements in the first quarter, which Chessen said was remarkable given the sharp increase in gasoline prices in the first three months of the year.
Consumers showed great improvement on credit card debt. The percentage of overdue credit card payments fell to 3.08% in the first quarter from 3.17% in the previous quarter. It was the lowest level since 2001. In mid-2009, about 5% of all credit card accounts were delinquent.
Delinquencies rose only in home equity lines of credit, to 1.78% of all accounts from 1.69% in the previous quarter. Chessen attributed the increase to the continued fallout from the housing crisis.
"It will be many quarters before delinquencies on home equity loans get back to anything close to normal," he said.
Chessen expects delinquency rates to continue to drop, but not as dramatically as in the last two quarters.
"We've moved back to historical norms now and further improvement could be hard to achieve," he said. "The economy has slowed recently and uncertainty remains high."