The average credit score for U.S. consumers dropped six points to 671 at the end of December from 677 at the beginning of the year, according to a report released this week by Credit Karma Inc., a San Francisco-based company whose Web site tracks credit scores. Credit Karma based its data on some 87,000 Credit Karma users. Average credit scores have remained stable since October, the firm notes.

Ken Lin, Credit Karma CEO, in an e-mail to Collections & Credit Risk, predicts credit scores will hold steady in 2010. “I think many people really started to get a handle on their finances in 2008. They started to pay attention to how their credit was affecting them,” says Lin. “This is why you don’t see such big decreases [in 2009] as you may expect.”

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was the only MSA where consumers managed to build their scores last year, with the average score rising one point. Individuals in the Boston MSA saw the biggest decrease with scores dropping 15 points to 692, still 21 points above the national average.

Nationwide, consumers increased their credit card debt by 18% during the second half of 2009 compared with the average card-debt level at the end of June. Consumers ended 2009 with average credit card debt of $8,079, up 2.5% from $7,879 at the end of November. It was the third consecutive month in which card-debt levels rose.

“After several months of paying down credit card balances, many consumers were forced to turn to credit cards towards the end of the year,” Lin said in a statement, noting that 2009 was “a rough year” for many consumers due to rising unemployment rates.

Consumer card debt in five states rose by more than 30% between July and December, the firm says. The biggest increase occurred in Indiana, where the average consumer card debt rose 39% during the second half of the year compared with debt levels at the end of June. It was followed by Tennessee (34%), Oklahoma (32%) and Michigan and Pennsylvania (30%). In the Philadelphia metropolitan area, consumers racked up more than 40% more card debt during the second half of the year.

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