BOSTON — Delinquencies on plastic issued by banks jumped in the first quarter from a year ago as strapped borrowers used their tax refunds to meet daily expenses instead of paying down their credit card balances.
For the first three months of the year, the delinquency rate in the U.S. rose to 1.32% for consumers who were three months or more behind payments on their cards, up 11% from 1.19% a year earlier, according to a report published Monday by credit-reporting bureau TransUnion LLC. The delinquency rate for the first quarter jumped 9.1% from the previous quarter.
Higher delinquencies, fueled by rising unemployment and the economic slump, force issuers to squirrel away capital to reserve for potential losses; ultimately, companies must write off loans if customers can't pay up. That could mean more trouble for card issuers such as Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., American Express Co., Capital One Financial Corp., Discover Financial Services and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
In addition, the report comes amid sweeping new restrictions on credit card companies that would ban extra fees and fluctuating rates. The new legislation, passed last month, is expected to bite into industry profits.
"As expected, bankcard delinquencies increased in the first quarter both as a national average and in most areas of the country," said Ezra Becker, director of consulting and strategy in TransUnion's financial services group, in the research note. "This increase could be an indication that tax refund checks, typically used to pay down balances in during the first quarter in years past, are now being used to cover daily living expenses."
Delinquencies were the highest in Nevada, followed by Florida and Arizona, states where large swaths of homeowners are also struggling with foreclosures.
These statistics were culled from about 27 million individual credit files. TransUnion predicts the 90-day delinquency rate for credit cards issued by banks will rise to 1.7% by the end of the year.