Credit delinquencies hit record high

Mounting job losses and fallout from housing bust make it tough for consumers to make payments on bank cards and other loans.

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By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Soaring unemployment and the housing bust are leaving consumers hard-pressed to make loan payments on everything from credit cards to cars.

A report released Tuesday by American Bankers Association showed that delinquencies on consumer debt rose to a record 3.23% in the first quarter of 2009, up slightly from the previous quarter.

The percentage of borrowers at least 30 days late paying a balance is the highest since the group began keeping records in 1974.

The statistics are "a natural consequence of mounting job losses in a weakening economy," ABA Chief Economist James Chessen said in a statement.

The economy is losing jobs by the thousands, and mass layoffs and pay cuts have exacerbated the credit crunch. Banks have heightened lending standards because of default risk, providing less credit to consumers.

"The number one driver of delinquencies is job loss," Chessen said. "When people lose their jobs, they can't pay their bills. Delinquencies won't improve until companies start hiring again."

The overall ABA delinquency rate includes loans in eight categories: home equity, home improvement, indirect and direct auto, marine, RV, mobile home and personal.

That overall rate does not include bank credit cards, for which delinquencies also hit a record high -- rising to 4.75% of all accounts, compared with 4.52% in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Similarly, the balances on those late credit card accounts rose to 6.6% of all outstanding bank card debt, marking another record high.

This could indicate that consumers are using bank cards to bridge temporary income loss, especially as falling housing prices continue to punish home equity, Chessen said.

A report last week showed that home prices continued tumbling in April, falling 18% the previous year. Tuesday's ABA report said home equity loan delinquencies increased to 3.52% from 3.03%.

Outlook: The ABA's predictions for loan delinquencies were tied to the fate of the job market, which "is not likely to improve in the foreseeable future," Chessen noted.

A report last week showed the economy shed a much-worse-than-expected 467,000 jobs in June -- the first time in four months that the number of jobs lost rose from the prior month. The unemployment rate climbed to a fresh 26-year high at 9.5%. To top of page

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