Soaring U.S. unemployment and a shrinking economy drove delinquencies on credit card debt to an all-time high in the first quarter as a record number of cash-strapped consumers fell behind on their bills.
Fallout from a still deteriorating housing market caused the rate of consumer loan payments at least 30 days late to rise to 3.23 percent in the January-to-March period from 3.22 percent in the 2008 fourth quarter, the American Bankers Association said.
Delinquencies were the highest since the ABA began tracking the data in 1974. Late payments on home equity borrowings set records, rising to 3.52 percent from 3.03 percent on loans and to 1.89 percent from 1.46 percent on lines of credit.
The overall delinquency rate actually understates consumer pain because it excludes bank-issued credit cards, where credit deterioration was severe.
Delinquencies on the value of all card debt soared to a record 6.60 percent from 5.52 percent in the fourth quarter. The rate of delinquent accounts rose to 4.75 percent from 4.52 percent, near the record 4.81 percent in the spring of 2005.
The biggest driver is job losses, ABA Chief Economist James Chessen said in an interview. When people lose their jobs or work fewer hours, it makes it that much harder to meet their obligations. Unfortunately, we're going to see higher job losses in the next year, and I expect elevated delinquencies.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; editing by John Wallace)