U.S. credit card delinquency rates, riding at their lowest levels in 17 years, likely will decline further next year as consumers continue to make on-time payments and maintain relatively low account balances, according to a new forecast TransUnion LLC released Wednesday.

The average bankcard delinquency rate on accounts at least 90 days past due will fall approximately 5 more basis points to 0.69% of all credit card accounts by the fourth quarter of next year from the present level of 0.74%, the credit bureau says. The average U.S. credit card delinquency rate stood at 0.82% a year ago, TransUnion says.

Cardholders likely will continue deleveraging, or paying down their outstanding credit card balances, says Steve Chaouki, group vice president in TransUnion's financial services business unit.

Average credit card debt per borrower during the third quarter this year stood at $4,762, approximately $1,000 less than the average a year earlier, TransUnion data shows.

The trend of leaner overall outstanding balances is likely to persist as consumers continue to meet their monthly credit card obligations and shy away from piling on new debt in the wake of the recession, Chaouki says.

TransUnion also says it expects cardholders to continue to put a higher priority on paying monthly credit card bills over auto and mortgage loans, a trend that began in early 2008.

Part of the reason consumers are carrying less debt — and reducing their risk of becoming delinquent on accounts — is that many issuers cut credit lines and tightened underwriting requirements during the recession to stem massive losses, Chaouki says.

But many creditworthy customers also are turned off on borrowing, he says.

"Our data show there is a large group of more-affluent consumers who never went delinquent and have healthy credit lines available to them who are voluntarily choosing to pay down balances and not carry credit card debt," Chaouki says.

Delinquency trends next year will vary among regions, which is typical, TransUnion says.

Several states will see delinquency rates rise slightly, including Connecticut, Missouri and Louisiana, TransUnion says. States likely to see the largest decreases in delinquency rates include Delaware, Oklahoma and California.

States projected to have the highest average delinquency rates by the fourth quarter of 2012 include Mississippi, at 1.03%; Louisiana, at 0.99% and Missouri, at 0.92%. States forecast to have the lowest average delinquency rates include North Dakota, at 0.36%, and Wyoming and Alaska with 0.44% each.

TransUnion says it developed its forecast by analyzing data from some 27 million anonymous consumer credit records.

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