Credit card debt risingFive groups of statistics revealed by the Fed's study are especially worrying (some figures were derived from graphs so it's worth treating them all as approximate):
- By the end of 2012, there were 383 million credit card accounts open. That's much less than the nearly 500 million that existed when the number peaked in 2008, but a slight increase on the previous quarter. The trend has been a gradual but largely steady increase since a recent low was reached in mid-2010.
- Credit card balances rose by $5 billion in the last quarter of 2012 -- and had increased in the third quarter, too.
- The latter half of 2012 saw an end to the fall in the percentage of credit card accounts that were 90+ days delinquent, a trend that had been continuing since March 2010. Instead, that percentage began to creep up again, and by the end of last year was around 11 percent.
- Looking at all forms of debt (not just credit cards), in Dec. 2012, an astonishing 14.6 percent of all consumers had an account in collection by a third-party debt collector (not the company to which they originally owed the money). The Fed says that most of these debts probably relate to outstanding medical and utility bills.
- In all (so including "good" debt, such as mortgages), American consumers owed $11.34 trillion in the fourth quarter. That was up $31 billion (0.3 percent) on the previous three months, and was a reversal of the downward trend seen since a peak of $12.64 trillion in the third quarter of 2008.
The silvery lining
Not all news in the Fed's study was bad:
- The total (aggregate) value of card credit limits dropped very slightly (by $9 billion or 0.3 percent) in the last quarter of last year.
- The number of credit inquiries (applications for all new accounts, not just credit cards) also fell a little over the same period. There were 164 million of them, compared with 167 million in the third quarter.
- Delinquency rates across all forms of debt improved in the fourth quarter. At the end of the year, 8.6% of outstanding debt was delinquent to some extent, compared with 8.9% six months earlier.
- Over the last decade, those who have a credit report have, on average, seen their scores rise, though only by a little.