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Consumer credit card balances jump in January, Fed says

Summary

Credit card balances rose in January, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, as consumers had difficulty paying down debt in a troubled economy.

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See updated story:Credit card balances jump as economic woes deepen

Credit card balances rose in January, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, as consumers had difficulty paying down debt in a troubled economy.

The rise in card balances was detailed in today’s release of the Federal Reserve’s monthly G.19 report, which showed revolving credit — a category of loans made up almost entirely of credit card debt — showed a 1.2 percent increase in January. Overall, revolving debt grew to $961.3 billion from a total of $960.4 billion in December. Meanwhile, nonrevolving credit grew 0.6 percent in January to $1.6 trillion. That section of the consumer credit report includes a variety of types of lending, primarily auto loans, student loans and loans for mobile homes, boats and trailers.

In all, consumers were carrying $2.564 trillion in total debt in January. That’s up from a revised December figure of $2.563 trillion.

With job losses mounting, cardholders had difficulty putting their limited incomes toward credit card debt. Research and risk analysis firm Moody’s recently reported that credit card delinquencies — credit card accounts that are more than 30 days past due — rose to 5.94 percent in January, the highest level since the rate’s historical peak of 6.31 percent in January 1992. Increasing delinquencies come at a time when access to credit is already restricted. A Federal Reserve report released last month showed that more than half of lenders tightened credit card lending standards in the final months of 2008.

The pullback in available credit is something of a mixed blessing to analysts, many of whom say lending had become excessive. “I have always been of the view that over the last 20 years there has been far too much credit available to consumers,” says David B. Humphrey, finance professor at Florida State University.

See related: Credit card use drops sharply again in December, Credit card charge-offs hit record high in January, Fed report: Banks continue to tighten lending standards

 

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