Consumer loan deliquencies rose at commercial banks during the first quarter, but there were signs of improvement in credit card loans, the American Bankers Association said Thursday.

The deliquency rate on eight types of installment credit rose to 2.75% of total loans, up from 2.58% at yearend 1991, according to the trade group's quarterly survey. Those figures do not include card loans.

But the uptick in late payments. those overdue by 30 days or more, did not disturb some economists.

"It's misleading," said Mark Zandi, an economists at Regional Financial Associates, West Chester, Pa. "The deliquency rate has risen because the better credit risks ar paying down their [installment] debt."

At the end of the first quarter, total consumer installment credit was down 3.77% from yearend 1991, according to data from the Federal Reserve Board.

Bankers and economists noted that revolving credit loans improved in volume and credit quality. Revolving credit-which includes bank and retail credit card debt - expanded 4.8% during the first three months of 1992, the only category of consumer loans that grew in the first quarter, according to the Fed data.

Upward Trend Reversed

Past-due credit card balances simultaneously shrank to 4.31% of total dollars outstanding at March 31, 1992, down from 4.61% on Dec. 31, 1991, according to the ABA. As a percentage of loans outstanding, deliquencies fell to 2.86% at the end of the first quarter from 3.29% three months earlier.

"The delinquency rate on bank card loans is more reflective of what is going on," Mr. Zandi said.

The decreases - which the trade group termed significant - reverses an upward trend that began in the last quarter of 1990.

Several bankers said that the credit card numbers reflect a growing surge of consumer confidence in the economic recovery.

"Our portfolio, half of which is in New England, has been down the tubes for a while," said Chris Frederick, a senior vice president at Fleet Financial Group, Providence, R.I. "But now we are starting to see an improvement in the economy."

Further evidence of improvement came recently from the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Its survey of home morgage lenders showed that delinquencies declined for the quarter in a row during the first three months of the year.

The ABA survey tracks delinquencies in auto, home improvement, and six other types of closed-end installment loans. For the first time, the first-quarter data included information on boat loans and education loans.

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