U.S. consumer debt fell a modest 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter as mortgage debt continued to decline, the New York Federal Reserve said on Monday.
Mortgage balances fell for another quarter, down 1.6 percent from the third quarter, according to the New York Fed's quarterly Household Debt and Credit report.
Credit inquiries - an indicator of consumer demand - rose 2.7 percent from the previous quarter, and were more than 16 percent above the low hit in early 2010. Aggregate credit card limits were also up, by 3.6 percent.
Mortgage originations rose for the first time in three quarters, to $404 billion, suggesting an uptick in appetite among both lenders and borrowers. Yet for all of 2011, originations were still down 3.1 percent from 2010 and were at their lowest level since 2000.
The report suggested households continued to shed debt and dig out from losses following the collapse of the housing market and the 2007-2009 recession.
Delinquency rates were at a still-high 9.8 percent, down from 10 percent in the previous quarter, while 2.2 percent of mortgages fell into delinquency.
Overall it appears that delinquency rates are stabilizing at levels that remain significantly higher than pre-crisis levels, Andrew Haughwout, vice president and economist at the New York Fed, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)