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Late payments on consumer loans dipped in 1Q

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Late payments on consumer loans dipped slightly in the first three months of the year, but remained at a level not seen since the early 1990s.

The American Bankers Association said Wednesday that late payments on a broad sample of consumer loans fell to 2.62 percent in the January-March quarter, down from 2.65 percent in the last quarter of 2007.

Still, it was the second-highest level since the first quarter of 1992, when the economy had just emerged from a recession.

"It was a tough quarter for some people," James Chessen, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement. "Faced with rising food and gas prices and little income growth, fewer resources have been available to manage debt."

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Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due. The survey is based on information supplied by more than 300 banks nationwide.

Late payments rose in five of eight categories that make up the trade group’s composite of consumer loans. Still, the overall rate of decline was driven by a lower delinquency rate for "indirect" auto loans arranged through dealerships, Chessen said. Late payments on those loans fell in the first quarter to 3.09 percent from 3.13 percent in the prior quarter. Late payments on auto loans arranged directly through banks rose to 1.92 percent from 1.9 percent in the last quarter of 2007.

Sinking property values, soaring fuel prices and a weak economy have made it difficult, or even impossible, for some to pay their monthly mortgages or car payments.

Late payments on home equity lines of credit jumped to 1.1 percent, the highest rate since the first quarter of 1997, while delinquencies on home equity loans dipped slightly to 2.34 percent. Late credit card payments rose to 4.51 percent, the highest level since late 2006.

The economy grew at a 1 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, helped in large part by strong U.S. exports, the Commerce Department reported last week. The reading was better than the anemic 0.6 percent growth rate logged in the final three months of 2007, but the two quarters together marked the slowest growth in five years as the economy has been bruised by housing, credit and financial problems.

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