LOS ANGELES Americans remain stingy about carrying credit card balances and are making more of an effort to make timely payments, trends that have helped whittle the rate of late payments on credit cards down to the lowest level in nearly 20 years.
The rate of credit card payments at least 90 days overdue fell in the second quarter to 0.57 percent. That's the lowest level since 1994, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Tuesday. The April-June card delinquency rate declined from 0.63 percent in the same period last year, and also was down from 0.69 percent in the first three months of the year.
The latest late-payment rate is the second-lowest recorded by TransUnion since the second quarter of 1994, when the rate was 0.56 percent, and it's running ahead of the historical average of 1.03 percent. The firm's records go back to 1992.
Many Americans remain reluctant to take on high-interest credit card debt after taking steps to increase savings and pay down balances during the Great Recession. Americans' credit card debt dropped $2.7 billion in June and remains 16.5 percent below its July 2008 peak, according to the Federal Reserve.
Nearly four years after the recession, the U.S. economy and job market are far from fully recovered, though they are making steady progress. On average, employers have added 192,000 new jobs a month so far this year. And the unemployment rate fell to a 4 1/2-year low of 7.4 percent last month, down from 7.6 percent in June. That's still well above the 5 to 6 percent rate associated with a normal economy.
The slow-growth economy, rising home values and a high-flying stock market have helped boost consumer confidence this year, but many Americans remain cautious with their credit.
"The data supports that consumers will continue to prioritize their credit card relationships over other credit obligations, and delinquencies should remain low into the near future," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit.
Average credit card debt per borrower slipped to $4,965 in the second quarter from $4,971 in the same period last year, TransUnion said. Card debt rose from $4,875 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the number of new credit card accounts opened by consumers increased in the first three months of the year.
The data lags by a quarter, so the latest TransUnion figures cover the January-March period. They show that the number of new credit card accounts rose 5.6 percent from the same period in 2012. The share of cards issued to borrowers with less-than-perfect credit was essentially flat at 27.3 percent versus 27.4 percent a year earlier. That's still well below the roughly 45 percent 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.