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TransUnion: Late-payment rate on US credit cards slides to lowest level in at least 7 years

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Americans are doing a better job of making timely credit card payments, even as many lenders increasingly extend credit to more people with less-than-stellar credit.

The rate of U.S. credit card payments at least 90 days overdue fell to 1.16 per cent in the April-June quarter — the lowest level in at least seven years, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Tuesday.

The second-quarter credit card delinquency rate is down from 1.27 per cent in the same period last year and 1.37 per cent in the first three months of this year.

The late-payment rate peaked in the first quarter of 2009 at 3.12 per cent, TransUnion said. The firm's data set goes back to 2007 and is drawn from information culled from virtually every U.S. consumer who uses credit.

Average card debt per borrower was up slightly in the second quarter, rising about 0.2 per cent to $5,234. It rose 1.4 per cent from the first quarter of this year.

Americans still have a limited appetite for debt after gorging themselves on sub-prime mortgages and credit cards before recession seized the country in late 2007.

Credit card borrowing started rising again in 2011, but the increases have lagged far behind other types of debt, including auto and student loans.

All told, U.S. credit card debt has increased 1.3 per cent over the past year, reaching $873.1 billion in June, according to the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, the number of new credit card accounts opened by consumers increased in the first three months of the year.

The data lag by a quarter, so the latest TransUnion figures cover the January-March period. They show that the number of new credit card accounts rose 17.8 per cent to about 11.7 million versus the same period a year earlier.

The share of cards issued to borrowers with less-than-perfect credit increased to 31.2 per cent, compared with 27.3 per cent a year earlier.

That's still well below the roughly 45 per cent share of cards going to non-prime borrowers before the recession, however.

In the VantageScore credit rating scale, consumers with a score lower than 700 on a scale of 501-990 are considered non-prime borrowers.

Lenders also are being more generous with the amount of credit they extend to cardholders.

The average credit limit on new bankcard accounts has increased steadily, rising 29.4 per cent to $5,230 over the three-year period ended March 31, TransUnion said.

The increase in card credit limits points to lenders feeling they can take on more risk while giving consumers a bigger credit cushion, said Tony Guitart, TransUnion's director of research and consulting.

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