Credit card chargeoffs climbed sharply in January, though early-stage delinquencies declined for the third month in a row, Moody's Investors Service Inc. said Monday.

William Black, a senior vice president at the rating agency, noted such delinquencies typically rise at the beginning of the year, and this January was the first since 2004 that they fell from the prior month.

He called that development "an encouraging indication of stability or improvement in chargeoff rates by midyear."

If unemployment remains flat in the second half of this year, Moody's expects the chargeoff rate to peak at close to 12% during the next several months.

That compares with January's 11.15%, up from 10.32% in December, according to Moody's.

The all-time high was 11.5% in August.

Accounts with a monthly payment more than 30 days late dropped to 5.96% in January, the first month they were below 6% since September.

The average share of a cardholder's balance paid slid to 17.53% in January after increasing in December.

Yields on credit cards also fell below the 22% ceiling it pierced in December, ending January at 21.54%.

Yield is the annualized percentage of income, primarily finance charges and fees, collected during the month compared with total loans.

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