Credit Card Delinquencies Rates Fall

Credit card delinquency rates fell at major U.S. lenders in November as fewer consumers fell behind on their bill payments, signaling that they are recovering from the stress of the financial crisis.

But consumers are also avoiding racking up more debt on their credit cards, even during the holiday shopping season, in a sign that lenders will be struggling to rebuild their businesses for some time to come.

Credit card lenders Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Discover Financial Services and Capital One Financial said the rate of late payments fell to their lowest levels this year in November.

Delinquencies are the first sign that consumers are having trouble paying their bills and indicators of future losses. The steady decline in delinquencies this year at the top U.S. credit-card lenders signals that American consumers have recovered from the worst of the financial crisis.

Overall losses ticked up slightly at some lenders, including JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, although they were still much lower than their charge-off rates at the beginning of 2010. Losses-- and loans--on credit cards usually rise at the end of the year, as consumers splurge during the holiday shopping season.

But they are reluctant to take on more debt this year. Only 16.3% of consumers polled used credit cards over the Black Friday weekend this year, down from 30.9% last year and an all-time low, according to a survey by America's Research Group and UBS.

Gradual Recovery

Lenders file monthly credit-card performance reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Bank of America, the largest U.S. consumer bank, still has one of the nation's worst credit-card loss rates, but it fell to 9.92% in November from 10.15 in October and more than 13% at the beginning of 2010. The company's delinquency rate in November fell to 5.47% from 5.6%.

At the other end of the spectrum, JPMorgan Chase's delinquency rate fell to 3.68% in November, from 3.81% in October. Its charge-off rate edged up to 7.16% in November from 7%.

Discover, which lends directly to consumers but also competes with Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc to process credit card transactions for banks, said delinquencies fell to 4.15% in November from 4.34% in October. Its overall losses also fell, to 6.72% in November from 6.83%.

Capital One said accounts delinquent for at least 30 days fell to 4.26% in November, from 4.45% in October. Its charge-off rate rose to 7.56% in November from 7.26%, but was still much improved from over 10% in January.

Citigroup and American Express are also expected to report the monthly performance of their credit card portfolios later on Wednesday.

Shares of the six major lenders were mixed Wednesday morning, with American Express up about 1% at $46.64 and Capital One down about 1% at $41.68.