WASHINGTON - Consumer-loan delinquencies rose in the third quarter, FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer said Tuesday.

In a preview of the quarterly earnings report to be released by the agency today, Ms. Helfer told members of Robert Morris Associates here that the delinquency rate on loans to individuals passed the 2% mark in the third quarter for the first time since 1992.

"Historically, it's a small uptick - but an uptick nonetheless," she told the bank lending officers' association.

Adding to the uptick's significance is consumer lending's increasing importance to bank profits, she said. Credit card loans, for example, account for just 7.8% of commercial bank loans, but produced 12.1% of all loan interest income in the first nine months of this year.

Banks' potential exposure to consumers - consumer loans on the books plus securitized credit card loans and unused credit card commitments - has doubled in the last four years to $1.6 trillion, she noted.

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