Consumers still strugglig to pay loans

U.S. consumers continue to struggle to pay back home equity, auto and other loans as high unemployment drags on the economy.

The American Bankers Association said in a report released on Tuesday that the overall loan delinquency rate ticked up slightly for the second straight quarter. It had been dropping steadily since hitting 3.35 percent in the second quarter of 2009.

The overall rate increased to 3.01 percent in the third quarter of 2010 from 3.00 in the second quarter.

The ABA defines a delinquency as a payment that is 30 days or more overdue.

The association attributed the lack of downward movement to the unemployment rate, which remains high, but said delinquency rates are likely to improve soon.

“The economy just skipped a beat in the third quarter,” ABA Chief Economist James Chessen said in a statement. “It doesn’t move in a straight line and neither do consumer credit delinquencies.”

Unemployment numbers have improved slightly since the third quarter, meaning the delinquency rate could start dropping again when numbers for the fourth quarter of 2010 are reported.

The unemployment rate in December was 9.4 percent down from 9.8 percent in November.

Chessen also argued that a deal between the White House and congressional Republicans over taxes for the next two years could help the economy by providing more certainty about income tax rates.

“I think we’ll see momentum return and delinquencies improve over the next six months,” Chessen said.

Among the areas where consumers had a more difficult time repaying their debts was in auto loans. The delinquency rate for loans provided by a bank increased from 1.67 percent to 1.74 percent and delinquencies on loans arranged through a dealer or other third party increased from 3.01 percent to 3.02 percent.

The delinquency rate on credit cards issued by banks also increased moving to 3.64 percent in the third quarter from 3.62 percent during the previous time period.

One area where the delinquency rate dropped was in marine loans for such things as boats. The rate fell from 2.2 percent to 2.04 percent.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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