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U.S. Consumers Doing Better at Paying Credit Card Bills

January 12, 2012

ATLANTA — A report by Equifax indicated that U.S. consumers continue to make timely payments and pay down their retail credit card and bank card balances, resulting in a significant drop in the number of card write-offs vs. 2010 levels.

The improvement in bank and retail credit card write-offs reflected a steady level of improvement over the last 18 months, according to Equifax. Bank credit card write-offs peaked at nearly 13 percent in July 2010 and retail credit card write-offs peaked at more than 14 percent in July 2010. Bank credit card write-offs currently stand at 5.53 percent (39 percent lower than 2010 levels) and retail credit card write-offs are at 8.4 percent (26 percent lower than 2010 levels).

Cumulative revolving card balances peaked in October 2008 at more than $752 billion, and, despite a recent uptick due to seasonal purchase activity, have since declined by almost 20 percent, according to Equifax. December 2011 cumulative revolving card balances stand at $604 billion.

Total consumer debt outstanding also peaked in October 2008 at $12.4 trillion, according to Equifax. In December 2011, U.S. consumers carried $11.1 trillion in total consumer debt, representing a decrease of more than 10 percent.

"Declining write-offs, growing card originations and the stabilizing of card balances are a precursor to balance increases, which can help to return the banks to profitability in this lending sector," said Michael Koukounas, senior vice president of special client services for Equifax. "The industry is experiencing sustained improvement in consumers' payment behavior and overall reduction of debt, a trend that seems to indicate more responsible lending and borrowing habits among card issuers and consumers alike."

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