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Late credit card payments edge up

But easing of gas prices may help ease the crunch

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Associated Press / September 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Late payments on credit card bills edged up this past spring, when high energy prices were squeezing the finances of some people.

The American Bankers Association, in its quarterly survey, reported yesterday that the percentage of credit card payments 30 or more days past due increased to 4.41 percent in the April-to-June quarter, up slightly from 4.40 percent in the January-March period.

``High gas prices and Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes have left consumers with less money in their pockets. As a consequence, consumers have less money left over to meet all their expenses, including paying back their loans," said James Chessen, the association's chief economist.

Since then, energy prices have dropped and the Fed has halted its rate-raising campaign. The central bank last week decided for the second straight meeting to hold rates steady -- a move that gives borrowers some breathing room.

The quarterly survey is based on information supplied by more than 300 banks. The survey also showed that the delinquency rate on a composite of other types of consumer loans, including auto and certain home equity loans, climbed to 1.96 percent in the second quarter, from 1.94 percent in the first quarter.

The cooling of the once-hot housing market, meanwhile, has important implications.

``Up until now, rising home values have increased wealth, been a source of liquidity for borrowers and allowed consumers to spend out of savings," Chessen observed. ``It's a different world now."

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