COLUMBIA, Md. — While there’s been some signs of improvement in credit availability and retail sales, there’s been little positive news regarding payment on debt and the number of accounts placed for collections. That changed in September for the first time since the economy started to seriously bottom out, according to the National Association of Credit Management (NACM)’s Credit Managers’ Index (CMI).

The combined CMI for September rose to 49.8, bouncing back from a nearly stagnant August on the strength of some dramatic improvements in dollar collections and in reductions in accounts placed for collection and dollar amount beyond terms. September saw the biggest improvement in these sectors in almost a year and that bodes very well for this quarter. Throughout the last year, the most distressing numbers seemed to be in these categories, which is expected in the middle of a recession. Even companies surviving the downturn were likely falling behind in bills or choosing to delay payments in an attempt to preserve cash flow. Now there is some sense that customers are starting to catch up and get current with their creditors.

The rate of dollar collections has not been this positive since September 2008. The number of accounts placed for collection has declined and is lower than any point since last summer. Dollar exposure is also the lowest since summer 2008. These index readings suggest that there is a marked improvement in credit performance.

“In order for the CMI to move into expansion territory — above 50 — it will take the coalescing of three trends in credit: more credit availability, more sales that require the acquisition of credit and more prompt and regular payments on credit granted,” said Dr. Chris Kuehl, NACM’s economic analyst. “There has been some movement in sales and some positive movement in terms of credit availability, but up to this point there hadn’t really been positive news regarding payment on that debt. Now all three factors seem to be moving in a generally positive direction.”

This development is consistent with some of the general economic observations made over the last few weeks. The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (OMC) made it clear that they thought the recession had reached an end and that the focus could now shift to recovery. Although recent Conference Board data showed a reduction in consumer optimism, a recovery of some consumer confidence, as reported by the University of Michigan, may have influenced the OMC opinion. There has also been good news in the housing sector, as wells as signs that some manufacturing industries have started to grow. Still, there remains plenty to worry about: from high unemployment to the state of commercial realty, as well as future threats of inflation.

The CMI was expected to crest 50 in this month’s survey, but the availability of credit was just a fraction under the point that signals expansion. With the combined index now at 49.8, Kuehl is confident that the fabled 50 point will be reached and reported in October’s survey.

The NACM supports approximately 19,000 business credit and financial professionals worldwide. It’s report, complete with tables and graphs, may be viewed at