NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Americans are not as far behind on their bills as a year ago.
The number of consumers behind on their credit card payments fell to an eight-year low in the first quarter of 2010, the American Bankers Association said Wednesday. Overall, delinquencies across a wide-range of consumer debt categories have also fallen.
High unemployment and plummeting home values during the financial meltdown appear to have spurred consumers to shore up their finances and banks to limit their lending, resulting in fewer Americans being late with payments, the industry group said.
About 3.88% of bank credit card accounts were past due by 30 days or more in the first quarter of the year -- the first time since 2002 that the rate has fallen below 4%, the ABA said Wednesday.
And ABA's composite ratio, which tracks delinquencies across eight key categories, fell to 2.98% from 3.19% the previous quarter -- a sign of modest improvement in the U.S. economy, the group said.
"Consumers are doing a much better job managing their finances, building their savings and spending and borrowing less," ABA Chief Economist James Chessen said.
The ABA's report confirms what other government studies have shown: Americans appear to be taking a more prudent approach to their finances.
The Commerce Department's most recent reports on personal spending and income showed consumers stashed a higher portion of their earnings into savings in May than they did a month earlier.
But while Americans may be more careful with their money, that doesn't mean the economy is a bed of roses.
Unemployment, at 9.5%, is still high 9.5%. There was a loss of 125,000 jobs in June. That was the first month of job losses in a year. And that doesn't include the record-high 1.21 million so-called "discouraged workers" who want to work, but aren't even looking because of the weak labor market.
Nike is opening up shop on Amazon.com and the company plans "big shifts" over the coming year. More
Not only do many women depend on insurance coverage for maternity care and contraception, it commonly falls to them to plan health care and coverage for the whole family. Yet as leaders in Washington discuss the future of American health care, women have not always been allowed in the room. More
An open letter signed by the Tesla CEO and 115 other robotics and artificial intelligence experts urges the U.N. to ban the use of lethal autonomous weapons. More
In 1998, Ntsiki Biyela won a scholarship to study wine making. Now she's about to launch her own brand. More
Despite having more financial "skin in the game" than ever, many consumers don't make any attempt to compare prices for health care services, a newly released study found. More