Delinquencies on home equity loans and credit cards declined in the first quarter for the first time since 2008, according to data collected by the American Bankers Association.
The trend in mortgage and card markets carried over into the broader consumer loan market, as overall delinquencies fell for the third consecutive quarter, the Washington trade group said Wednesday.
"Consumers are really working hard to manage their finances better," James Chessen, the ABA's chief economist, said in an interview. "They are spending less, they're saving more, and they're even paying down debt at a faster rate than what typically happens."
Delinquency rates on home equity loans fell to 4.12%, from 4.32% in the fourth quarter of 2009, and past-due credit card payments fell to 3.88%, from 4.39%. (The ABA defines delinquencies as accounts that are late 30 days or more.)
Similar quarterly data compiled by the Federal Reserve found that credit card delinquencies fell to 5.80% in the first quarter, from 6.43% in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The Fed's figures, based on data reported to regulators by commercial banks, indicated that problems had not abated in the overall real estate sector, with commercial banks reporting almost 10% of their real estate loans delinquent in the first quarter, up from 9.34%.
The banking association's consumer credit delinquency report, which gathers data from banks on loans 30 days or more past due, demonstrates the industry's effort to rid itself of some of its worst assets, Chessen said.
"Banks are putting the losses behind them," he said. "They are charging off loans that have gone bad, and as a consequence the overall risk in banks' consumer portfolio is improving."
Other consumer finance segments showed similar improvements. Delinquencies for direct auto loans were 1.79% in the first quarter, compared with 1.94% in the fourth quarter, and late indirect auto loans dropped to 3.03%, from 3.15%. Delinquency rates for home equity lines of credit fell to 1.81%, from 2.04%.
However, delinquency rates for boat loans increased to 1.93%, from 1.63%, and late recreational vehicle loans rose to 1.58%, from 1.44%.
Mobile home delinquencies increased to 3.65%, from 3.41%.
The consumer loan data comes as economic indicators reflect weaknesses in industries from housing to manufacturing.
The United States shed 125,000 workers in June, the first drop this year, according to Labor Department figures. Reports last month showed a plunge in home sales, a decline in consumer confidence, slower manufacturing and less growth in the first quarter.
Those trends make the consumer numbers all the more significant, Chessen said.
"There's an effort by consumers to build a buffer, which is extremely important given how weak the economy still is," he said.