Growth is hard to come by in the credit card business, but major lenders are sticking with a smaller pool of customers with higher credit scores.

Issuers charged off mountains of bad accounts in the aftermath of the recession, ultimately breaking a historic link between joblessness and credit performance. Now, even with loss rates at longtime lows despite high unemployment and nationwide receivables stuck in a trough, portfolios have continued to shift toward borrowers with the strongest payment histories. (The following graphic shows credit score distributions over time at the Big Six. Text continues below.)

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